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AT&T wants out of landline services, including in much of Southern California

AT&T is asking to withdraw from providing landline support for most of its service areas in California, which is worrying some residents who fear losing their connection, especially those in areas where network connection may be unreliable.

The telecommunications company wants to be relieved of its “carrier of last resort” obligations – because the provider is the exclusive landline servicer in many areas, being the carrier of last resort means it is required to provide access to the service to all customers who want it.

If AT&T’s request is approved, the company would no longer be designated the carrier of last resort, but there would not be a new required provider in place. AT&T would not be required to offer landline telephone service and there would possibly be no landline telephone access for those residents.

The request to withdraw includes a majority of Orange and Los Angeles counties, as well as portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. An AT&T representative said though the company does not publicly release customer numbers in detail, fewer than 7% of households throughout its coverage area in California use traditional copper-based landline phone services.

A decision by the California Public Utilities Commission, a regulatory agency that oversees privately owned public utilities in the state, whether or not to approve AT&T’s request is expected sometime in the fall.

“There’s been a dramatic, and continuing, decline in the number of customers who subscribe to our traditional landline voice service over the last two decades. With the vast array of options offering greater functionality and reliability, millions of people have long ago chosen modern, high-speed internet and wireless phones over outdated telephones,” an AT&T representative said. “We’re working to transition our remaining copper-based phone service consumers to newer technologies from us or other providers, so everyone will still be able to make their most important life connections.”

Karen Renfro of Riverside said she’s had her landline for more than 40 years.

“We like our service because it’s reliable. We get good service from AT&T. Their quality is good,” she said. “People that have wireless service seem to have a lot of problems with their phones. The battery goes dead or there’s interference or it just doesn’t work.”

The CPUC has received more than 2,000 comments submitted from the public about AT&T’s request, including citing concerns about reception issues with cellphone service and landlines not needing electricity.

California customers will not be disconnected, an AT&T representative said, however, the company is trying to focus more on technologies such as fiber and wireless that they say consumers are demanding.

If approved, no company would be required to provide basic service in the affected areas. This does not mean that no carrier would provide service in an area, but they would not be required to.

Most landline users have the option of switching to alternative options such as VoIP services, or Voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that allows voice calls using an internet connection instead of a traditional phone line. But Renfro doesn’t want to give up her traditional copper landline, she said, because she doesn’t see alternative options being as reliable, pointing to spotty connection signals and interruptions.

“We don’t think that AT&T has to eliminate the copper wire landlines. If they do this, it makes us feel like they’re abandoning us. We hope they won’t drop the copper wire landline,” Renfro said. “There are no good alternatives. We want to keep our service.”

The resources the company is spending to maintain “outdated services – like copper-based networks – are resources that we can’t invest in our networks to close the digital divide,” an AT&T representative said. “The vast majority of Californians have left our copper-based network for newer IP-based services such as VoIP and wireless.”

The CPUC will host a virtual public hearing on this issue on March 19 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Residents can join by calling 1-800-857-1917 or online at www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc.


Source: Orange County Register

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