Green phone

AT&T landlines under immediate threat in California

The California Public Utilities Commission is considering a formal request by AT&T to eliminate Carrier of Last Resort regulations that require the company to provide landline telephone service to customers in its service area.

Such a move would likely mean the end of the traditional telephone network for most residents in California, a controversial policy opposed by many consumer and safety groups, who say such a move is preposterous and that landlines are needed now more than ever, as climate emergencies worsen and the digital divide grows wider.

Plumas Wired, Save Landlines and many other groups are encouraging residents to voice their opinions straight away to the CPUC, and to consider attending one of the two Feb. 22, public hearings in Ukiah, California and plan to call in to one of the two CPUC virtual public hearings March 19.

AT&T recently mailed landline telephone users a notice about the pending decision and hearings. Many customers who have received notices are voicing their alarm online and in community forums.

Josh Hart, spokesperson for Plumas Wired and Save Landlines, two of the groups in favor of keeping landline service, is encouraging people to speak out now while there is still time to save this critical communication infrastructure.

People are urged to speak out to local and state officials and the CPUC in writing and speak at upcoming in-person and remotely- held hearings, as well as share on social media.

According to Hart, “In many cases, especially in rural areas like Plumas County, there simply is no viable alternative to AT&T landline service.”

Some residents rely on their landline not only for a voice connection but for basic dial up internet as well.

“In spite of this, AT&T has designated many of these areas as those in which it is seeking ‘COLR relief’ (or the option to discontinue service to those who most need it). AT&T claims to be bridging the digital divide but is in fact widening the digital divide and endangering public safety,”  Hart said.

Many seniors especially are disinclined or unable to use smartphones. The quality of landline audio is far superior to the alternatives. VoIP or Voice Over Internet Protocol has problems such as unreliable connectivity, calls dropping out, and likelihood of failure in an emergency or power outage.

Nevertheless, telecom companies have been pushing lower quality and less reliable wireless and VoIP services because they are cheaper and more profitable.

Advocates point out that even those who don’t use landlines themselves may benefit from having them in the neighborhood during extended cell tower outages in an emergency such as a wildfire.

In recent fires, cell towers have burned, preventing evacuation orders from being received and putting lives at risk.

“Landlines are lifelines everyday and in an emergency,” said Hart. “If the state moves forward with allowing AT&T to have their way, community safety will suffer and people’s telecommunications choices will be dangerously narrowed.”

Pro-landline groups compare the current threat against landlines to the coordinated buy out of electric trolleys in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and replacement with less popular buses. It has now cost governments billions of dollars to replace these lost streetcars with their modern equivalent, light rail.

Taxpayers have paid billions of dollars over decades to replace critical transportation infrastructure that was lost when weak politicians allowed General Motors and other corporations to destroy competition for buses and cars in the 1950’s. Let’s hope Gavin Newsom’s CPUC does not repeat the mistake with our critical communication infrastructure.

Landline advocates also point out that cell phones are increasingly linked with deadly brain and other tumors of the head.

A significant portion of the population (likely 5 percent or more) reports suffering pain and discomfort when exposed to RF microwave radiation used commonly in wireless technology. Landline advocates say the reasonable course of action is not to force people to use wireless when it causes them pain.

Utilities and regulators have been aware for many years that wireless microwave radiation is harmful. In September of 2010, Michael Peevey, who was at the time President of the CPUC, admitted to PG&E executives in writing that he believed that people suffer pain from smart meter, cell phone and other microwave signals (this e-mail was obtained through a Public Records Act Request):

There really are people who feel pain, etc., related to EMF, etc., and rather than have them become hysterical, etc., I would quietly leave them alone. Kick it around.

Landline advocates point out that many services identified by AT&T as alternatives to landline service are simply not accessible to those with medical sensitivities to wireless radiation.

Emergency communication is critical. While cell towers have little to no battery backup when the power goes out and often burn in wildfires, landlines are more resilient and offer a quality, reliable voice option, crucial when cell and internet service fails. Landlines also identify the specific location for 911 responders, critical if a caller is incapacitated or unaware of their location.

Landlines are more critical than ever, as the alternatives remain unreliable, hazardous, and inferior in quality. Wireless technology is also one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions, putting our climate at even greater peril. Everyone deserves a safe, reliable and affordable landline telephone. That’s why COLR was created. The loss of the landline network would risk public safety and push those already in the margins over the edge. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

Actions to take to defend landlines in California

  • Submit a comment to the docket itself. Please do this if you have not done so already. Brief is fine. (It may be helpful to have your statement ready to copy/paste.) apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f? p=401:65:0::NO:RP,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT: A2303003
  • Call/email (as often as you’d like) the Public Advisor’s Office: cpuc.ca.gov/pao/
  • Email commissioner Reynolds (assigned to the case). Remind him briefly and courteously about how essential landline service is to you (and/or a family member, friend). john.reynolds@cpuc.ca.gov.
  • CPUC commissioners are appointed by and under the authority of the governor. Let Newsom’s office hear your voice by email or phone: gov.ca.gov/ contact/
  • Local leaders have also received notice of AT&T’s request. Let their offices know why you and others depend on copper landlines. Contact your own city/town council as well as your state senator and assembly member.
  • Sign and share this recently started petition: change.org/p/save-landline-service-in-california.
  • You might like to join this growing group: roups.io/g/savelandlines/
  • Don’t miss public participation hearings specifically devoted to AT&T’s request to abandon landlines. The in- person hearings are at the Mendocino Board of Supervisors 501 Low Gap Rd, Ukiah, California from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22.

The two virtual meetings will be held at 2 and 6 p.m. March 19. Save one of those March 19 times. This is be the last chance to make a case for preserving wired landline/legacy copper service as we know it.

After March 19, the CPUC will make a decision.

About the hearings
cpuc.ca.gov/proceedings- and-rulemaking/cpuc-public-participation-hearings (*Type CPUC Application A2303003 in the subject line of all email communications.).