Will the CPUC Make AT&T Send Out a Correction Notice?
They are considering it. At least that is what I have heard from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Manager of Manager of LA Consumer Affairs, Juanita Lane.
The $64,000,000 question is when? Will the CPUC require AT&T to correct their deceptive/confusing notice before the artificial July 1, 2017 deadline threatened by AT&T? Not likely.
Unfortunately, the CPUC is much like the FCC: they are both captured agencies, which means that these government agencies are dominated by the industries they presumably regulate. The CPUC often acts more like a branch of AT&T than as a defender CA residents’ rights or as an enforcer of CA telecommunications laws.
One large problem is that AT&T and Verizon for many years have each collected taxes/fees from customers’ landline bills for the express purpose of upgrading the legacy copper, phone-switched landline to fiber-to-the-home. Unfortunately, they never carried out that promise. Instead, these firms fraudulently transferred this money from their Title II, regulated wireline divisions to their unregulated Wireless divisions. That’s right Grandma’s landline phone bill financed the build out of 4G/LTE Wireless. The vast majority of fiber-optic cables go to cell phone towers instead of to customers’ homes.
Blog Post Update: Confusion Reigns About AT&T’s Legal Duties to Provide Legacy Copper Phone-Switched Landline Services . . .
Email from AT&T Landline Customer on 6/17/17
I have been involved with the AT&T controversy this past week and read with interest Mr. DeVine’s letter on your website.
Its contents fly in the face of what I was told when I called AT&T. I was told that “the notice” did, indeed, mean that we would be switched from landlines to VOIP, that the FCC had approved the change, that there were no specs available on the modem that would be required but that one would be, that no information was available as to whether the new system would work with hard-of-hearing phones from the CA state program, that there was no guarantee that medical alert devices would interface with the VOIP phones, and that I was free to take my business to another company that provided landlines.
My experience, while different from some of my neighbors’, was not unique. Some were told that landlines were going to be terminated effective 2020.
I was very polite with the representative but she had an almost combative attitude and told me, when I asked to speak to a manager, that “it wouldn’t do any good” because the decision had already been made. She said if I had any further questions that I should call the FCC. When I told her that I would pay my bill, but under protest, she said that I would be expected to pay my bill, no matter what. Or cancel my service.
I called AT&T from my landline in Los Angeles and spoke with someone named Jennifer.
Thanks for your ongoing work on this and other matters!
[AT&T Customer from Valley Village, CA 91607]
Email from AT&T Landline Customer on 6/18/17
I posted an alert on Nextdoor.com and some of my local neighbors called AT&T. One person reported back that he was told that AT&T was selling their landlines and that he would be able to get landline service from the company that would be buying the landlines. Another reported that AT&T told them that all landlines would be terminated in 2020. Still another said that they were told that the notice did not pertain to landlines and that landlines would continue to be available without change. These three people live in my local area, probably Studio City, Valley Village or areas in the east San Fernando Valley.
I called the FCC after my call with AT&T and was told that the switch from analog to digital had been made in 2009 “so that the president could talk to us in an emergency.” (TRUE STORY!) The FCC representative also said that AT&T “could say whatever it wants, but the FCC has not given them permission.” She also said that most areas had been switched to VOIP and that mine was among the few that had not been changed “yet.” When I pressed her for more information she told me to contact my PUC.
Another person who posts on the emf safety list from northern California had a similar response to the one I received from AT&T and yet another, who lives in a rural area of norther California, was told that his landline would not be discontinued.
[AT&T Customer from Valley Village, CA 91607]
Nextdoor.com post from AT&T Landline Customer on 6/19/17
I left a comment earlier that I had called AT&T and was told land lines were not going to be eliminated. After reading so many other replies, however, I called again and this time was told that yes, indeed land lines were going to be eliminated, and that it was up to the company and there was nothing I could do about it. (Yes, that was the tone of the person on the phone!) So after that conversation, I went to the link in the original notice on Next Door, and I filled out the form asking the CPUC to prevent AT&T from eliminating the land lines. I don’t know what good that will do, but I felt compelled to do something.
The Wireless companies have also practiced FCC-sanctioned accounting fraud to allocate expenses disproportionately to the wireline divisions making them "appear" much less profitable than they actually are. They are using this false data to justify expanding the unregulated and more expensive Wireless services, in lieu of the more cost-effective, and far superior wireline services.
Legacy copper, phone-switched landline phone services have benefits that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service, such as U-Verse and Wireless phone service do not offer:
- Only landline phone works even during an extended power outage. VoIP phone modems depend on short-lived batteries, if present at all, which provide only limited-time use during an extended power outage.
- Only landline 911 calls auto-verify the address if the caller cannot speak — such as after suffering a stroke.
- The Governor of Florida has recently encourage all FL residents to maintain a landline phone for reliable emergency communications during floods, hurricanes or other natural disasters.
This issue is discussed in even more detail in a recent Op-Ed piece by Nina Beety.
Here is an image of the notice that AT&T mailed to CA landline customers’ bills in May/June 2017:
The notice has obvious deception/negligence in paragraph 5d and even references a subsection (b) that appears nowhere on the notice.
The notice has created such consumer confusion among current landline customers (often the elderly, and lower-income customers), that AT&T needs to mail an additional correction notice to current AT&T landline customers before 7/1/17 stating that these AT&T landline customers, despite the May/June notice, retain the legally-required option to keep their landline service ‘as is’, without being forced to accept any changes or any new network equipment.
I sent a 6/15/17 email to Juanita Lane, CPUC Manager of Consumer Affairs, Robert Ricondo, to CPUC Supervisor of Consumer Affairs and to a slew of CA Legsilative staff from the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee — see some excepts from this email, below:
I received the attached letter from Bill Devine in my email minutes ago. AT&T should take the step to mail an additional notice to their landline customers well before 7/1/17 to clarify the matter because these landline customers are understandably confused by the words in red, in the paragraph, below.
AT&T reserves the right at any time to temporarily suspend or interrupt Services to make necessary changes in how we provide Services over our network and facilities to your premises. We will provide advance notice of these network changes to the extent required by this Agreement, applicable law and application. In some cases, such changes in how we provide Services may require a technician to be dispatched to your home and to install new network equipment at your premises and transfer your service to the new network equipment in order to ensure you continue to receive such Services. The network equipment we install at your home may require the use of your electrical power for the operation of our facilities. Where a technician visit is required, if you do not allow AT&T to install the new network equipment at your premises, your telephone service may be disconnected in compliance with subsection (b) above."
Mr. Devine’s two paragraphs on page two of his 6/14/17 shown below, attached, seem to contradict themselves. See images of both pages of Devine’s letter:
Bill Devine Page 2, Paragraph 1:
In fact, the provision in question will only apply when AT&T is upgrading a customer’s service by providing new network facilities, and a technician needs to access the customer’s premises to install the necessary equipment. AT&T may need to rely on this language if we are upgrading to fiber or replacing copper facilities damaged by flood or fire with fiber, for example. Customers will be able to keep their existing service, and will be given advanced notice of any such network upgrade and the need to access their premises.
Bill Devine Page 2, Paragraph 1:
Finally, under [Federal Communications] commission rules, AT&T continues to provide Basic Services to its residential customers and that is not changing. This is not a notice of moving basic service to VoIP or wireless service; these are different products and will remain so.
Comments on these two paragraphs:
First, the language in the AT&T notice provides no such example as given in Mr. Devine’s letter, only the vague "in some cases" (no specific reason specified) and "where a technician visit is required" (no specific reason specified) when the technician may need to "install new network equipment at your premises and transfer your service to the new network equipment in order to ensure you continue to receive such Services. The network equipment we install at your home may require the use of your electrical power for the operation of our facilities. Where a technician visit is required, if you do not allow AT&T to install the new network equipment at your premises, your telephone service may be disconnected in compliance with subsection (b) above."
The minute a customer agrees to this, then they will lose their legacy copper line phone switched landline service (the only service that reliably provides the emergency benefits listed above. Only VoIP or wireless service would "require the use of your electrical power for the operation of our facilities". Isn’t that right, Mr. Devine?
Mr. Devine’s pararaphs do not sufficiently clear up the deception/negligence in AT&T’s May/June notice.
Second, AT&T has not lived up to their decades-long promises to upgrade their legacy copper line phone switched landline service to fiber optic to the home, as you can read in these two well-researched articles:
Bruce Kushnick: California Wireless Legislation: Paid for by AT&T Et Al.
"AT&T, which controls the state utilities of 21 states, never bothered to properly upgrade the state of California or any other state. And because the politicians are getting money from various financial buckets, they are not going to call for investigations and audits that should have been done, but weren’t . . . AT&T’s entire U-verse was a bait-and-switch that uses the copper wires that were in place as part of the state utility and they can be decades old. The fiber optic cables go to a ‘node’ that can be ½ mile away from the home . . . they are using whatever fiber they put in to do wireless . . . Wireless is not a substitute for fiber. Remove the hype about “5G” wireless and you have nothing more than a plan to remove regulations and push for more expensive services, priced by the gig, with data caps and slower speeds . . . [AT&T California Landline] customers paid rate increases to upgrade and replace the copper state utility wires while now-AT&T took billions in tax deductions to make this happen. There were never any refunds when the company dropped their plans soon after they got their ‘deregulation’ to make more money . . . the state never went back to do a full analysis of what happened to their fiber optic future, much less demand refunds."
Bruce Kushnick: Investigate the FCC’s Accounting Rule Scandal before They are Erased.
"The FCC’s accounting rules were ‘frozen’ so that the expenses are allocated to different services based on the year 2000, 17 years ago. This ‘freeze’ has created massive financial cross-subsidies, making local phone customers pay the majority of expenses for all services, from the capital expenditures for the wireless companies, to Business Data Services (BDS). Auditing the impacts of the ‘freeze’ is important because it documents that the FCC has been negligent and is creating new public policies without accurate financial data. . . the FCC decided to continue the freeze for an additional 18 months. This appears to be nothing but a cover-up to remove all of the accounting rules without any analysis, audits or investigations. However, it will immortalize the financial cross-subsidies that benefit the incumbent phone companies, especially AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink."
Clearly, many people will desire to keep their landlines ‘as is’ and would refuse any changes or additions of network equipment. Currently, by reading the notice, this may result in disconnection of their service. Notices like the recent misleading one from AT&T (which is the same notice they sent out to customers in other states that passed a law similar to AB.2395), indicate that AT&T is acting AS IF Assembly Bill 2395 passed. THE BILL DID NOT PASS.
California Assembly Bill 2395
Status: (Failed) 2016-11-30 – From committee without further action.
The deceptive/negligent notice needs to be corrected by AT&T with their AT&T landline customers very soon. I do not have the means to mail Mr. Devine’s letter or a more accurate notice to all California AT&T customers. AT&T does and the CPUC should direct them to do so.