IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

California County Supervisors Ask AT&T to Keep Landlines

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday asked a state commission to not approve the carrier’s application to end landline service in areas of its jurisdiction. Landlines are the only option for some residents who lack cell reception.

Telephone Pole
(TNS) — A plan by telecommunications giant AT&T to end landline service to certain parts of Monterey County has raised the ire of the entire Board of Supervisors.

A letter dated Tuesday to the California Public Utilities Commission and signed by District 2 Supervisor and board chairman Glenn Church, is asking the regulatory body to nix AT&T’s application to halt landline service to certain areas of Monterey County.

The application seeks to eliminate what’s called the Carrier of Last Resort obligation, which could adversely affect residents of Monterey County who rely mainly on AT&T’s basic phone service. The application does not include an approach for transitioning to alternatives. Rural residents in the county have few options for accessing quality and affordable telecommunications services, Church said.

Much of Supervisor Mary Adams’ District 5 relies heavily on landlines, as there is no cell reception because of the mountainous terrain.

“There are people in Big Sur who have no Internet and have no other way to communicate other than landline telephones,” Adams said. “If this application is approved and AT&T is no longer required to service these people, what are they going to do? They’ll have no 911.”

Supervisors listened to Betty Saxon, AT&T’s external affairs representative for the Central Coast, who tried to allay these concerns by repeatedly telling the elected officials that “no customer is being turned off. No one is being left behind,” she said.

She later qualified her statement by saying even if the application is approved, it would still have to be greenlighted by the Federal Communications Commission and that that process could take years.

But in the actual application submitted to the CPUC, AT&T, citing dwindling federal financial support, states that it wants out of being what’s called an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier, which is any carrier that is eligible for government support.

“Because AT&T no longer receives federal high-cost universal service support, AT&T California should no longer have the obligations of a federal (Eligible Telecommunications Carrier), including the obligation to participate in the federal Lifeline program,” AT&T stated in its CPUC application. California Lifeline provides discounted home phone and cell phone services to qualified lower-income households.

Saxon said one of the motivations to halt landlines is that they are becoming increasingly archaic and creates maintenance challenges.

“That network is dying,” Saxon said. “We can’t get the parts. (Landlines) are going to meet their end-of-life cycle. That is a foregone conclusion.”

Data from the FCC shows the number of landlines in the United States plummeted from roughly 127 million in late 2009 to 27 million in mid-2022. If copper-wire lines continue to decline at the current rate, there will be few or none left by 2029.

But that data doesn’t help county residents who rely solely on landlines. These are not people who are afraid of technological changes, rather people who have no alternatives available to them, Adams said.

“I don’t agree with your presentation,” Adams told Saxon. “Because even though it may be in quite a few years, if AT&T is the carrier of last resort, then AT&T has to invest in ensuring they get the parts and they have people who know how to (maintain landlines).

“But without that protection, I fear there will be no one advocating for the folks who have no choice but landlines,” Adams said.

Church said that the reasoning behind AT&T’S claim that it needs to transition to upgraded technology, such as fiber optic lines, doesn’t hold water for a couple of reasons. First off, he said that cellular coverage, as an alternative to landlines, is spotty, particularly in the canyon areas of his district in northern Monterey County. People there depend on landlines, he said.

“There are folks who can’t get cellular service,” Church said. “They are going to need copper wire or a cell tower on every property. So, when you say no one is going to be cut off, what are the alternatives?”

Saxon responded by saying AT&T has applications filed with the county to build more cell towers. “AT&T is still in the process of building out its network, such as fiber (optic), especially in Marina.” she said.

Supervisor Chris Lopez, whose District 3 runs from east Salinas down to the county border just north of Lake Nacimiento, was also adamant that there needs to be alternatives in place before AT&T pursues ending landline service. He noted there are areas in his district, particularly places in the eastern parts, as well as the Arroyo Seco area that have zero cellphone reception.

“It seems we’re working toward the removal without working toward the solution,” Lopez said.

Church wrapped up the discussion by telling Saxon that he was not confident in the way AT&T managed the issue.

“The rollout has been bungled in what is basically corporate incompetence,” he said.

©2024 MediaNews Group, Inc, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.