California Denies AT&T's Request to End Carrier of Last Resort Obligations

CPUC received over 5,000 public comments in opposition to AT&T's plan to replace landlines with cellular service.

California Denies AT&T's Request to End Carrier of Last Resort Obligations
Photo of CPUC President Alice Reynolds on September 4, 2022.

June 24, 2024 – The California Public Utilities Commission denied AT&T's request to be relieved of its carrier-of-last-resort obligations in significant portions of the state in a 4-0 vote Thursday.

“Our vote to dismiss AT&T's application made clear that we will protect customers' access to basic telephone service no matter where customers live, their income, or their access to other forms of communication,” said CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds. “AT&T's application did not follow our rules.”

AT&T's application would have allowed the company to cease providing telephone landlines offering basic services in areas, such as rural regions, that lack cellular coverage, as currently required by COLR rules.

John Reynolds mentioned that the department had received over 5,000 public comments in strong opposition to AT&T's plan to replace landlines with cellular service. Residents who rely on telephone landlines highlighted issues such as poor cellular reception in certain areas, electromagnetic sensitivity, and the necessity of landlines for reliable communication with friends, family, and emergency services.

CPUC President Alice Reynolds emphasized the importance of the COLR rules, which require the company to offer landline phone service upon request to all residential and business customers within its service territories. This will ensure universal telephone service, particularly in rural areas with limited or no alternative providers.

“The COLR rules safeguard telephone service by ensuring Californians have access to at least one telephone company that offers reliable service, access to 911, customer protections, and affordable service through the state's Lifeline program,” she said. “We subsidize the COLRs through our high-cost fund programs to offset the cost of providing service in these remote areas.”

In its application submitted in February, AT&T argued that it was seeking "modest regulatory reforms to provide "tailored relief from its outdated COLR obligation." The company claimed that the obligation forces it "to wastefully operate and maintain two duplicative networks: one, an antiquated, narrowband network with an ever-dwindling base of subscribers, and the other, a forward-looking, fiber and wireless broadband network."

AT&T further contended that because of the COLR requirement, "AT&T California alone must continue to fulfill every request to extend an outdated voice-centric network to anyone, anywhere within its footprint, even in cases where the customer has access to a modern alternative." The company noted that other major providers like Comcast, Charter, Cox, Verizon, and T-Mobile do not face the same obligation.

CPUC said that its decision reflects its dedication to uphold universal service standards and address the concerns of residents who depend on telephone landline services for their communication needs.

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