Friday, December 8th, San Francisco–Protections for rural phone customers would be reinstated under a court challenge to the FCC’s recent decision that made it easier for phone companies to discontinue landline service in underserved areas. TURN, along with the Greenlining Institute, Public Knowledge and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) filed the Petition for Review today in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The FCC decision at issue eliminated previous rules that required adequate notice to customers before a phone company could discontinue a service. The change means that phone companies can pull the plug on homes and small businesses at will, without notice to impacted customers. Customers would simply be told they have to change services. The FCC also eliminated the “Functional Test” that required the agency to evaluate the community impacts elimination or reduction of copper landlines could have. Under the Functional Test replacement service had to be as high quality as the discontinued service, and it had to support communications that customers rely on, like medical alert devices, alarm systems, elevator phones and atm and credit card equipment used by small businesses. Customers will now have no opportunity to assess major changes to their ability to communicate, or to challenge replacement services that are inadequate or would harm their communities.
Reliable phone service is a critical public safety issue. Eliminating the most basic requirements that phone companies replace landline service with equally functional options obviously puts consumers at risk, especially those that experience emergencies such as wildfires, earthquakes and floods.
“TURN’s 20,000 members statewide, many of whom live in areas impacted by wildfires and floods, have bombarded our office with letters and calls saying they still depend on landlines. Even urban customers don’t always find cell service as reliable, especially in emergencies,” said TURN executive director Mark Toney. “The wildfires plaguing our state highlight the urgent importance of reliable communications, especially in rural areas. No one wants to depend on spotty reception, dropped calls or downed cell towers when an evacuation order or emergency alert is being issued.”