After more than 140 years, Ma Bell — or, rather, Ma Bell’s successor — is looking to move on from landline service in most of California, and nearly all of the Santa Clarita Valley, according to a California Public Utilities Commission application from AT&T that compared the twisted copper wire-service to Kodak film and Blockbuster rentals.
Some residents, particularly those in the more rural parts of the 91390 ZIP code who received a notice of the phone company’s year-old application last month, are hoping to share their concerns and stop the application, which one Saugus resident called “disastrous.”
The cellphones many rely on as an alternative don’t receive reliable service in rural areas like landlines do, she reasoned, among other concerns.
But AT&T argues in its application that with so many options, including “facilities-based alternatives,” it’s unfair and unnecessary to make the telecom giant provide the antiquated service and “wastefully operate and maintain two duplicative networks.”
The CPUC is holding a series of forums to give the public a chance to discuss the application in front of the regulators. The application is seeking two approvals, according to the website for the CPUC, the state regulator that licenses telecommunications:
The first approval is for relief from its Carrier of Last Resort obligations in certain areas of California. “If approved, AT&T would no longer be required to offer landline telephone service where it is currently required to offer basic service in those areas. Basic service includes nine service elements such as Lifeline rates for eligible customers, free access to 9-1-1, Telephone Relay Service and directory and operator services,” according to the CPUC.
The second request is to give up its designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier, which is a telephone company that operates in a specific geographic area that receives financial assistance from the federal government-established Universal Service Fund to provide high-quality and affordable telephone service to customers at all income levels.
“Significantly, AT&T is not seeking total COLR relief at this time,” according to AT&T. For those who lack an alternative to AT&T California’s basic voice service, the company would continue to offer voice service on the same terms as before until an alternative is available, a situation the company called “the best of both worlds.”
The company states the demand for what it calls POTS, or “plain old telephone service,” has almost vanished over the last 20 years, with the company recording the number of lines “plummeted by 89% from 2000 to 2021.”
And more to the carrier’s point regarding the redundancy of its COLR obligation, 99.9% of the population in the applicable AT&T service territory has access to at least two facilities-based alternatives to “POTS,” and 99.7% has access to three, according to its CPUC application.
However, as a resident of a home off San Francisquito Canyon Road in the area that could lose service, Judy Reinsma reached out to The Signal with concerns.
She’s far from the only one, as more than 37,000 comments have been left on the CPUC website for the proceedings.
“This would be disastrous for many in this area,” Reinsma said. “Cell service is either poor or entirely unavailable in some parts of this area.”
The voice service she has with Verizon receives “extremely poor reception,” she said.
“People frequently stop their cars in front of my home so they can make cell calls before they enter the ‘dead zone’ of the (Angeles) National Forest — I know, I have talked to them,” she said.
Arthur Lenhardt, an Alameda resident in an affected area, shared a similar sentiment on the website’s comment section Thursday morning.
“Many people use emergency response devices that require a landline to signal a life-threatening situation,” he said. “For this reason, among others, the elimination of the availability of a landline should be prohibited.”
There’s no local opportunity for residents to weigh in on any concerns, as the nearest in-person discussion would be March 14 in Indio, according to the CPUC site for its hearings, which also has the schedule for virtual meetings: msg.cpuc.ca.gov/pph.
Residents can submit a comment online through that website, or by attending the only virtual hearings on the matter, which will be 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. March 19.
The company is dedicated to improving its access, and part of that process is shedding its outdated and underutilized systems, according to AT&T.
“The fact is consumers have already made the choice to transition to broadband — they use their wireless and broadband connections daily,” according to an email Wednesday from Miguel Lopez-Najera, who works in Regional Media Relations for AT&T Corporate Communications. “Californians have transitioned away from the copper landline service and network for modern, high-speed connectivity provided over wireless or fiber-based networks. We need to work together to make sure that the few remaining consumers transition away from the outdated legacy networks to modern services.”
It’s unknown if a decision will be made on the day of the final hearing on March 19. AT&T filed the application nearly a year ago, on March 3, 2023.
Here’s a link to attend the first virtual hearing March 14: https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/events-and-meetings/pph-att-2024-03-14-2pm.