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AT&T can’t hang up on landline phone customers, California agency rules – Cyber Armada Hub

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Getty Images | Joe Raedle

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) yesterday rejected AT&T’s request to end its landline phone obligations. The state agency also urged AT&T to upgrade copper facilities to fiber instead of trying to shut down the outdated portions of its network.

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AT&T asked the state to eliminate its Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligation, which requires it to provide landline telephone service to any potential customer in its service territory. A CPUC administrative law judge recommended rejection of the application last month, and the commission voted to dismiss AT&T’s application with prejudice on Thursday.

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“Our vote to dismiss AT&T’s application made clear that we will protect customer access to basic telephone service… Our rules were designed to provide that assurance, and AT&T’s application did not follow our rules,” Commissioner John Reynolds said in a CPUC announcement.

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State rules require a replacement COLR in order to relieve AT&T of its duties, and AT&T argued that VoIP and mobile services could fill that gap. But residents “highlighted the unreliability of voice alternatives” at public hearings, the CPUC said.

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“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,” the agency said. “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.”

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The administrative law judge’s proposed decision said AT&T falsely claimed that commission rules require it “to retain outdated copper-based landline facilities that are expensive to maintain.” The agency stressed that its rules do not prevent AT&T from upgrading to fiber.

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“COLR rules are technology-neutral and do not distinguish between voice services offered… and do not prevent AT&T from retiring copper facilities or from investing in fiber or other facilities/technologies to improve its network,” the agency said yesterday.

AT&T seeks change to state law

In a statement provided to Ars, AT&T California President Marc Blakeman said the carrier is turning its focus to lobbying for changes to state law.

“No customer will be left without voice and 911 services. We are focused on the legislation introduced in California, which includes important protections, safeguards, and outreach for consumers and does not impact our customers in rural locations. We are fully committed to keeping our customers connected while we work with state leaders on policies that create a thoughtful transition that brings modern communications to all Californians,” Blakeman said.

AT&T said the legislation is “based on feedback we and legislators received over the last year” and “addresses concerns raised during the community outreach process and sets a clear path forward.”

The legislation pushed by AT&T “would create a way for AT&T to remain as COLR in rural regions, which the company estimates as being about 100,000 customers, while being released from COLR obligations everywhere else,” a Bay City News article said.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors opposed the bill, saying it “would simply accomplish the same aims as AT&T’s application to the CPUC for relief of its Carrier of Last Resort Obligations,” which would have “significant negative effects… [on] more than 580,000 customers in California that rely on Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) under AT&T’s COLR obligations.”

The CPUC is separately moving ahead with a new rulemaking process that could result in changes to the COLR rules. The rulemaking says the commission believes “that the COLR construct remains necessary, at least for certain individuals or communities in California,” but it is seeking public comment on possible changes.

The rulemaking asks whether the commission should relax COLR requirements, for example by declaring that certain regions may no longer require a carrier of last resort. It also seeks comment on whether VoIP and wireless providers should be designated as carriers of last resort.

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