AT&T releases copper fog over California

4 May 2016 by Steve Blum
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Opposition is growing to AT&T’s attempt to rewrite California law so it can pull out its wireline networks in rural and inner city communities, and use wireless networks to provide broadband and phone service instead. In response, AT&T is pushing misleading and lawyerly talking points to elected officials in rural counties and to non-profit groups in urban areas.

If you examine the claims made in the documents submitted by AT&T into the public record (see links below), each one is arguably true when read in isolation. But much is left out or presented out of context. Taken together, these selectively told half-truths create a completely false picture of what assembly bill 2395 will do to telecommunications networks in less affluent and less lucrative Californian communities.

The big lie is that AB 2395 is only about replacing old, analog phone systems with voice over Internet protocol technology. It does do that, and if it only did that it wouldn’t be a bad bill. There would be issues to address – reliability, back up battery power and job transitions come to mind – but those problems are solvable if all concerned negotiate in good faith.

Unfortunately, AB 2395 allows AT&T to do two other things: pull out copper networks and offer only wireless service instead, and run a monopoly business with virtually no regulatory brakes. The pitches it’s making to elected officials artfully evade those points by answering objections with mock outrage over legacy analog technology and pretending that’s all that’s at stake.

For example, AT&T dodges questions about ripping out copper lines by talking about meeting federal standards for “voice grade service” but ignoring broadband completely and only offering up the hope that “more advanced technologies may become available for consumers”.

Similarly, it claims that “federal copper retirement rules will remain in place”. But it doesn’t mention that those rules allow it to yank out copper lines with 90 days notice, or that states share telecoms regulatory authority with the FCC. California, unlike some other states, takes that responsibility seriously and polices monopoly operators more rigorously than most, much to AT&T’s annoyance.

California has to adapt to the new telecoms world created by digital technology, and plan for even more dramatic disruption in the years to come. The right way to do that is to consider all the facts and all points of view, and thoughtfully discuss alternatives before settling on new policy to put into law. The wrong way is to allow AT&T to write a bill that benefits its monopoly business model at everyone else’s expense.

AT&T response to objections by Rural County Representatives of California
AT&T’s “myth vs. fact”
AT&T VoIP talking points