AT&T plan to scrap copper networks will widen digital divide, say rural reps

by Steve Blum • , , ,

AT&T’s attempt to force a bill through the California legislature that would allow it to, among other things, replace low priced, low margin wireline systems with more lucrative wireless service continues to draw fire from rural interests. The Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) – a group comprised of supervisors from 35 rural counties – is urging its members to oppose assembly bill 2395, a proposed law written by AT&T and carried by assemblyman Evan Low (D – Silicon Valley).

AB 2395 is being spun as a simple, technological upgrade from old style analog phone service to voice over Internet protocol systems. That’s not a bad idea in concept, but as RCRC points out in its opposition letter, the bill gives AT&T carte blanche to upgrade affluent and profitable urban areas while pulling the plug on rural customers…

Regrettably, we believe that while AB 2395 offers the promise of a more modern communications system for California, the bill devises a scheme that minimizes consumer· protections and provides avenues for telecommunication providers to abandon their current subscribers from ever experiencing these modern telecommunications options…

RCRC would have far more comfort with relinquishment proposals if California’s telecommunications stakeholders, including the CPUC, had met their obligations in providing near universal access. And that access included quality, demand-functions found in other areas of the State. Unfortunately, much of California has either no connectivity (unserved) or inferior connectivity (under-served). Until this digital divide is eliminated, we cannot support changes in the regulatory and statutory environment which furthers this gulf between who gets access and who does not.

The bill skated through the assembly’s utilities and commerce committee, where chairman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) naively accepted AT&T’s bland assurances it would do the right thing even if the new rules allowed otherwise. It’s sitting in the assembly’s appropriation committee now, awaiting a vote later this month.