CPUC report highlights telecoms companies' disdain for rural customers

20 November 2016 by Steve Blum
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Self service.

There’s little interest among major telecommunications companies in maintaining infrastructure or service in rural California. That’s my overall conclusion after reading a draft decision by commissioner Catherine Sandoval summarising the California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation into telephone service problems in rural areas of the state.

The study focused on call completion issues: problems with 911 calls getting through, phone numbers falsely reported as out of service and a simple lack of dial tone, for example. And when something goes wrong, it’s difficult or even impossible, to get it fixed…

We heard in this [investigation] many frustrated customers complain about the difficulties in getting service ranging from the need to make repeated calls for service. Some customers reported that their carrier insisted that the customer had to have a working telephone to report that their landline telephone is out, leading one elderly woman in Sonoma County to climb on her roof to get a poor cell signal to report her landline outage. Others complained that when they asked for repairs the carrier told them they were not repairing landline service or would make technological transitions in the future, while leaving the customer with poor service to intermittent or persistent service outages.

Other customers reported great difficulty in getting their repair needs met, even when they were out of service. TURN reported on comments received in a meeting they attended in Big Sur where the Soberanes fire raged for more than 2 months in 2016. One customer stated, “I have contacted AT&T more times since I can count since the [Soberanes] fire because our line is still not functional no dial tone. Still no action.”

Other problems uncovered during the investigation include the difficulties small, rural telcos have exchanging traffic with and getting long haul connectivity from major carriers, and the unwillingness of telephone and cable companies to share information with public safety agencies, or even provide them with information about outages.

The CPUC is scheduled to consider the findings and proposed course of action in the draft decision at its 15 December 2016 meeting.