AT&T: Your Landline Is Not Going Away But It Needs An Upgrade

AT&T says outdated technologies need to go as it seeks to end certain service obligations for traditional landlines in parts of California.

person walks by AT&T flagship store in San Francisco
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

AT&T's recent request to end its obligations to provide service for traditional landlines in several California regions does not mean the company is walking away from providing landline service, a company spokesperson recently told Kiplinger.

It is, however, part of the telecom giant's broad-based effort to switch customers away from "outdated technologies" such as copper-based phone lines to more modern services such as fiber or wireless technology, the spokesperson said in an email.

Amid pushback from several groups, the company has requested that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) relieve it of its obligations as the "largest carrier of last resort" (COLR) to provide service for landlines in certain areas of California, including the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino. The company, which is the largest COLR in the state, is obligated to ensure that everyone has access to safe, reliable and affordable telephone service, according to the CPUC.

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AT&T, Verizon and other telecom providers have been working to transition customers away from basic landline phone service to newer technologies including Voice Over IP (VOIP). Both AT&T and Verizon have previously indicated that they aim to move to newer infrastructure in the next few years, according to a February 5 CNN Business report.

The AT&T spokesperson told Kiplinger that fiber optic technology can be used for internet and/or as a landline telephone.

"We are not canceling landline service," the spokesperson said. "Californians have options besides AT&T for telephone service," he said, adding that 99.7% of consumers within AT&T's service territory have at least three facilities-based alternative options for voice service.

But some groups including the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), an advocacy organization that has formally opposed the AT&T request, disagree. The landline service that AT&T now provides has a uniform set of minimum service standards and regulations "that do not extend to new technologies that provide similar service, such as wireline Voice Over IP," the group says.

If approved, more than 580,000 affected AT&T customers would be left with fewer options in terms of choice, quality and affordability, RCRC says. "Alternative services, such as VoIP and wireless, have no obligation to serve a customer or to provide equivalent services to AT&T landline customers, including no obligation to provide reliable access to 9-1-1 or LifeLine program discounts." 

The CPUC is now holding public hearings on the request. For more information on participating, contact the CPUC’s Public Advisor’s Office by emailing, calling 1-866-849-8390 or visiting the CPUC’s website.

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Joey Solitro

Joey Solitro is a freelance financial journalist at Kiplinger with more than a decade of experience. A longtime equity analyst, Joey has covered a range of industries for media outlets including The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Market Realist, and TipRanks. Joey holds a bachelor's degree in business administration.