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AARP Asks CPUC to Reject AT&T's Petition to End Rural Telephone Service

Posted on 03/06/24

02 telegraph

On March 5, 2024, AARP State Director Nancy McPherson sent the following letter to the California Public Utilities Commission:

March 5, 2024

President Alice Reynolds Commissioner Darcie L. Houck Commissioner John Reynolds Commissioner Karen Douglas

California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Subject: Opposition to AT&T’s application to discontinue Carrier of Last Resort Obligation (A. 23-03-002 and A. 23-03-003)

Dear President Reynolds and Commissioners:

On behalf of 3.2 million AARP members in California, I am writing to express our strong opposition to AT&T’s petition to stop providing traditional telephonic services (i.e., landline phones) to approximately 580,000 current AT&T customers in mostly rural areas of California.

If this petition is granted, residents in these areas will no longer have a provider for vital communications services, including VoIP and wireless. Most significantly, without a state- mandated provider, 9-1-1 and other emergency alert services will no longer be available to these customers, creating an unacceptable risk to their health and safety.

According to a recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 3,970,000 Californians, or 29.8% of the total state population, currently have a landline. The percentage of households 55 and over with a landline is 45.4%. Of these Californians, about one million depend on AT&T for reliable phone calls, reaching emergency services, or LifeLine discount services. According to TURN, if such services are turned off, 100,000 low-income households may expect a 200% increase or more in their monthly phone bill.

Rural areas of California have some of the highest emergency risk factors in the state due to such hazards as wildfires and other natural disasters. Moreover, losing access to emergency services would disproportionately impact older adults, which is unacceptable to AARP.

Policymakers should ensure that all consumers have access to essential telecommunications services in their residences. This service should be affordable, reliable, and high-quality. All consumers should be able to subscribe to stand-alone basic telephone services with affordable rates, reliable service, and consumer protections.

Freeing AT&T from its obligations as “carrier of last resort” would put hundreds of thousands of Californians in danger, should they need to access emergency services, and cut off a critical line of communication to family, friends, neighbors, healthcare providers, and other essential services. That is why we strongly urge the Commission to reject AT&T’s petition.

Sincerely,
Nancy McPherson
State Director

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