June 20, 2024
  • Redwood City – San Mateo County officials celebrated today’s California Public Utilities Commission decision that allows residents to keep their land-line phones, a critical communications tool in emergencies.

    “This is a victory,” San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller said, “for some of the most vulnerable residents in our county whose telephones are their lifeline.”

    Telecommunications giant AT&T had requested that the CPUC relieve AT&T of what is called its “Carrier of Last Resort” (COLR) obligations in certain areas of California, including nearly all of San Mateo County. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in March to oppose the move, which they said would leave “thousands of residents, including vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with access and function needs… at risk.”

    Today’s CPUC vote denies AT&T’s bid to drop landline service that includes free access to 9-1-1 and telephone relay service (for people with speech or hearing issues), among other features. Mueller, whose District 3 includes numerous rural hamlets, has led the County’s opposition.

    “There are residents both in the rural areas and urban areas of San Mateo County that rely on that COLR service,” Mueller said at today’s CPUC meeting in San Luis Obispo. “Specifically in power outages in urban areas, individuals with access and functional needs who have to be able to reach out for help during local outages, and in rural areas where we have tremendous connectivity issues on the coast during power outages sometimes lasting weeks.”

    Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said, “The CPUC made the right decision to hold AT&T to its promise and obligation to provide phone service to our constituents in areas with unreliable cell service. If the only option to provide this COLR service is through copper landlines, then AT&T must provide and maintain those. These lines of communication are lifelines to residents in rural areas especially during public emergencies like fires, earthquakes, floods and landslides. Cost saving must never trump public safety.”

    Yet the commission’s unanimous vote does not end the threat to land-line service.

    A bill, AB 2797, now in the State Assembly would make it easier for companies like AT&T to withdraw from their carrier of last resort  obligations.

    The bill would allow AT&T and any other service provider operating as a COLR in California to end their obligations as a COLR without the express consent of the CPUC, in various circumstances. Mueller announced he will be bringing to the Board of Supervisors on June 25, 2024, a resolution to oppose AB 2797. 

    “On the eve of AT&T’s petition being denied at the CPUC, legislation to remove the CPUC’s regulatory authority has been brought forward in the state legislature, where AT&T has spent significant sums of money in campaign contributions over the last decade,” Mueller said. “It is my hope that our local state legislators will reject AB 2797, as our county’s most vulnerable residents’ health and safety depend on the protections afforded by the safeguards put in place by the CPUC to protect those who need COLR access.”

    AB 2797 has been referred to the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications and has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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