landline phone Daniel Oines

Over the last few years, AT&T and Verizon have been going state to state trying to get any and all consumer protections laws stripped on DSL and landlines in preparation of hanging up on users they don’t want to upgrade. With Verizon and AT&T having killed off regulatory oversight in many states, we should not expect anything to be done about it, despite both companies being given billions in subsidies over the years to get these very same users online.

Verizon and AT&T pitch this type of move as some sort of transition into the future in which consumers will get improved networks. AT&T and Verizon have only one goal in this so-called transition and that is to kick off all DSL and POTS users and force them onto another fixed-line choice of cable broadband or heavily capped wireless.

This move ends up allowing AT&T and Verizon to save billions all the while skirting consumer protection laws put in place for this type of situation. Consumers are therefore stuck between paying more for cable broadband (if you can get it), or signing up for expensive wireless with low data caps (if you can get it).

AT&T and Verizon have various reasons for wanting their DSL services to die off, including the fact that newer LTE technology is cheaper to deploy in rural areas and easier to keep upgraded. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam recently told investors:

“Every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam recently told attendees of an investor conference. “We are going to just take it out of service. Areas that are more rural and more sparsely populated, we have got LTE built that will handle all of those services and so we are going to cut the copper off there.”

Verizon wants these rural areas to end their DSL plans and instead sell those users LTE services with a high price point ($15 per gigabyte overages). Verizon then hopes to sell those users data-eating video services via their Redbox streaming video joint venture. In some cases, Verizon simply refuses to fix broken landline issues.

Rural users most likely to suffer

Landline. Florian Plag

Currently in Alabama, some are just starting to realize the actual effects that are about to come from the so-called AT&T transition. As the Wall Street Journal reports, AT&T customers may eventually have to switch to wireless or high-speed service while new customers wouldn’t be allowed to sign up for traditional, landline-based service at all. But Carbon Hill City Clerk Janice Pendley says some people in the former mining town are apprehensive:

“Some of them like their landline, and they like it just the way it is,” she says.

AT&T says no one will lose old-fashioned phone service until the carrier proves it can provide those customers with an alternative. AT&T is seeking approval to kill off any new customers in Carbon Hill and a section of Delray Beach, Fla., to sign up for traditional, landline-based service.

Yet, AT&T comes off as laughably unprepared for this initial challenge. In Carbon Hill, 4% of their residential customers are too far from the center of the city and therefore can’t get the broadband service being offered by AT&T. How does AT&T plan on dealing with this? We don’t know….they won’t tell us.

In Delray Beach, over 50% of the population is over 65 years old. How is AT&T going to deal with this since these people are generally the last group to make technological changes? Again, we have no idea as AT&T won’t tell us.

Verizon and AT&T say keeping the old technology is going to cost them billions of dollars a year, even as more customers abandon it. AT&T says the transition will create faster, cheaper networks that speed creation of improved high-definition voice and video calling. As we saw with Verizon after Hurricane Sandy, terminating POTS and DSL services and then just hoping wireless fills the gaps can have terrible drawbacks:

(Bill Wayland) wants to keep the landline phone in his Chesterfield Township home. He can’t get service on his cell phone in the workshop in his basement and said he often loses calls when he uses his cell phone in his office. His 21-year-old disabled son doesn’t have the fine motor skills to use a cell phone, and his security alarm is wired to his landline.

If Verizon and AT&T want to ditch their obligations of landlines after receiving billions and billions of subsidies from taxpayers for those very landlines, why not make these companies actually put their promises of fantastic wireless in writing and force them to stick the promises? Or is that too much to ask?