Urgent: Save Our Landlines

Landline phone overlayed on wildfire image

Have you ever lost access to cell phone service during a disaster?  Or were you lucky enough to have a copper landline to receive LA County’s evacuation notice?

On June 20, 2024, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to keep landline phones. They rejected a petition by AT&T to end their legal obligation to provide basic landline phone service to any customer requesting in their service area. This requirement is called a Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) obligation, meant to ensure all Californians have access to safe, reliable, and affordable telephone service. AT&T, the largest COLR in California, sought to end landline access for millions of Californians. And although, the CPUC voted against AT&T’s petition to withdraw as a COLR, the fight is far from over.

Thousands of residents attended CPUC hearings and submitted comments overwhelmingly in support of keeping their landline phone access.

Landline access is critical to many older adults who live in rural areas without adequate cell reception – especially in High Fire Severity Zones like Topanga. While landlines keep rural Californians connected to friends, family, and healthcare, they are also far more reliable in emergencies like wildfires and storms, since they are not affected by Public Safety Power Shutoffs or downed power lines. During the Woolsey Fire, the initial evacuation order was not received by most residents in Topanga because of SCE’s Public Safety Power Shutoff order. This is a matter of life or death. Only landlines are dependable during disasters and they are usually the only functioning form of communication.

“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,” said Commissioner John Reynolds.

In response, however, AT&T has taken the fight to the state legislature with Assembly Bill 2797.  If they win, it will be a win for Frontier and other carriers, too.

AT&T has resorted to using the objectionable “gut and amend” legislative maneuver, transforming a bill originally about horse racing into a bill that would permit AT&T to abandon its obligations to provide landline service.

AB 2797, according to AARP State Director Nancy McPherson, “unfairly circumvents the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) vote to protect landline phone service for millions of Californians.”

The bill “would not only overturn the CPUC decision to protect landline phone service, it would also create an unaccountable process by which AT&T and all other telecom providers could avoid legal obligations to provide landline phone services in the future,” McPherson wrote. “Nearly four million Californians depend on this service, and 580,000 of them rely on landlines to keep them safe during emergencies, like wildfires in rural areas.”

This request, in defiance of Thursday’s CPUC ruling, flies in the face of public outrage and community need.

You can lend your voice to the fight to keep landline access in advance of a Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee hearing on July 2, 2024. 

Below is a sample letter you can use or adapt and send to state legislators.  Find contact information for our state government representatives on OneTopanga.com.

If you would also like to contact the members of the Senate committee that will next hear the bill, you can find the member list here.


SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Representative,

Carriers like ATT have been designated “Carriers of Last Resort” (COLR), a status that requires them to make available landline telephone service to all customers. ATT is attempting to relinquish this responsibility, which will leave rural-mountain communities like ours in a communications vacuum. There must be sufficient, viable alternatives in place in our community before ATT is ever allowed to abdicate this responsibility. Otherwise, residents will be rendered mute and defenseless in the event of an emergency or natural disaster -during which communication is necessary to both understand and escape the threat.

As it stands now, many people have no way at all to communicate with others if a health crisis or other disaster befalls them when the power goes out. It is critical that ATT be compelled to retain its emergency carrier responsibilities and be held accountable for making sure that ALL residents are equipped with workable landlines—especially vulnerable seniors, and those living in High Fire Severity Zones.

We encourage the CPUC and legislators, respectively, to strengthen the regulatory and legislative provisions that compel ATT to maintain its copper line service and to secure future service for residents and businesses. Copper lines are especially attractive in PSPS-prone areas like Topanga because such lines do not fail, or require a battery backup, when the power goes out.

ATT must be required to maintain a reliable form of landline service for all residents that functions even when we face power service disruptions.

For these reasons, I ask you OPPOSE Assembly Bill 2797.

Thank you.

[First Name] [Last Name] [Your Address]