Infrastructure Local News 

CPUC Rejects AT&T Landline Withdrawal Request

Santa Cruz Mountains Residents Will Stay Connected

On June 20, 2024, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) rejected AT&T’s request to withdraw from the state as a carrier of last resort (COLR) following extensive, sometimes heated, public input. In a statement, the CPUC said, “Following review of AT&T’s request, which received over 5,000 public comments and for which the CPUC held eight public forums drawing more than 5,800 attendees, the CPUC today denied AT&T’s request.” AT&T is the largest designated COLR in California and by law must provide safe, reliable, and affordable telephone service to customers in its designated service areas by any available means, whether it is by Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), commonly known as landline service over physical copper wire; cable, Voice Over IP (VoIP), or wireless. AT&T proposed to withdraw as the COLR without a new carrier being designated. For individuals who live deep in the mountains, AT&T landlines are lifelines and are literally the last resort in an emergency.

“The CPUC’s rejection of AT&T’s request underscores the critical importance of ensuring universal access to essential telecommunications services for all Californians,” the CPUC statement reads. “As the designated COLR, AT&T plays a pivotal role in providing reliable telephone service to communities across the state. Despite AT&T’s contention that providers of voice alternatives to landline service – such as VoIP or mobile wireless services – can fill the gap, the CPUC found AT&T did not meet the requirements for COLR withdrawal. Specifically, AT&T failed to demonstrate the availability of replacement providers willing and able to serve as COLR, nor did AT&T prove that alternative providers met the COLR definition.”

Input from the public also highlighted how unreliable mobile wireless and VoIP can be in the mountains. “With the dismissal of AT&T’s withdrawal request, the CPUC reaffirms its commitment to safeguard access to essential services and maintain regulatory
oversight of the telecommunications industry. Commissioner John Reynolds, who is assigned to the proceeding, said, “Our vote to dismiss AT&T’s application made clear that we will protect customer access to basic telephone service – no matter where they live, income, or access to other forms of communication. Our rules were designed to provide that assurance, and AT&T’s application did not follow our rules.”

Rulemaking Procedure

The ruling includes a new process called “Rulemaking,” which is designed to adapt to evolving regulations, market conditions, and technological advancements. CPUC President Alice Reynolds said, “For nearly 30 years, the carrier of last resort rules have been essential for ensuring universal telephone service in California. This new Rulemaking provides an opportunity to update the COLR rules and High-Cost Fund programs to better meet the needs of Californians and to achieve the state’s Broadband For All objectives.”

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