March 26, 2024
  • Redwood City – San Mateo County Supervisors today voted 5-0 to oppose a move by AT&T they say could threaten the county’s most vulnerable residents during wildfires and other emergencies.

    AT&T has requested the California Public Utilities Commission remove its designation as the Carrier of Last Resort, which requires the company to provide a landline connection to customers in its service area. In a filing with the CPUC, the company says it wants to move away from copper phone lines to fiber and a wireless-based network. 

    But by relieving AT&T of its Carrier of Last Resort obligations, residents could lose free access to 911 and telephone relay service (for people with speech or hearing issues), according to the resolution supervisors approved today. The request to drop landline service includes near all of San Mateo County, according to a map posted on the CPUC’s website.

    “Landlines are a lifeline in many areas of San Mateo County,” said Ray Mueller, whose District 3 includes much of the rural coast. “These residents live within a 20-minute drive to Silicon Valley yet have spotty or non-existent cell service. Given the threats from wildfire, storms, tsunamis and other natural disasters, we simply cannot allow AT&T to leave these residents without ready access to 911 and other emergency services.”

    During a power outage, traditional landline service that runs over a copper network will often continue to operate. (The network is typically powered separately from an area’s overall electrical grid.)

    Just last month, as many as 74,000 electrical customers lost power during storms, according to the resolution. Those who rely on wireless (cellular) phone service “may or may not have voice service in a power outage, depending on the backup power installed at cell sites,” according to the CPUC. “We do not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.”

    In a filing with the CPUC, AT&T claims it is seeking only modest regulatory reforms and “AT&T California will continue to offer basic telephone service in all of its service area unless and until it separately obtains all necessary permission to stop, so no customer will lose service if the Commission approves AT&T California’s application.”

    Supervisors said there’s no teeth to that claim and the company’s application “fails to explain how the reliability of such alternative services will be assessed and assured,” according to the resolution approved today.

    The CPUC is expected to issue a decision in the fall.

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