AT&T blows off rural Californians, because it can

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Attitude is everything.

Telecoms service and infrastructure in rural California is deteriorating, according to a draft of findings and remedies resulting from a California Public Utilities Commission investigation led by commissioner Catherine Sandoval. Wireline service outages and other problems aren’t being repaired and customers are told that the fix will come from future “technological transitions” – a euphemism for we’ll get back to you after we’ve ripped out the copper and replaced it with wireless.

Much of the trouble seems to lead back to AT&T, which is not surprising or even particularly significant in and of itself, since it’s California’s dominant telco. But the data compiled in the investigation shows a pattern of rural neglect on AT&T’s part, and the company showed little interest in addressing problems or even cooperating with the CPUC’s efforts to find out what’s going on.

The contrast in corporate attitudes between AT&T and Frontier Communications, which took over operation of Verizon’s wireline systems in California in April, could not be clearer. Several public hearings were held in the course of the investigation, and I attended the one in Santa Cruz. Frontier’s northern California management team was there in force, while AT&T sent a local staff lobbyist who, as the draft decision describes, seemed, well, confused…

At the Santa Cruz [public participation hearing] AT&T, California’s representative alleged that the 211 call from the Hoopa Tribe’s [Temporary Assistance from Needy Families] office did not go through because she asserted that those calls came from Trinity County which does not currently have 211.” Tressa Bader, Vice President for Frontier, in Northern California clarified that the Hoopa Tribe and their TANF Office are Frontier customers located in Humboldt County.

There’s not a lot the CPUC or anyone else can do about AT&T’s attitude. The draft decision proposes few remedies beyond beefing up data collection from carriers and consumers. It has yet to be adopted by the commission, and there’s reason to wonder if will be: the CPUC rejected tougher reporting and repair standards in August, and instead voted to allow telcos to, in effect, fine themselves for violations and keep the money.