AT&T and Frontier have let telephone networks collapse, Calif. regulator finds

A pair of scissors being used to cut a wire coming out of a landline telephone.

AT&T and Frontier have let their copper telephone networks deteriorate by neglect since 2010, leading to poor service high quality and plenty of prolonged outages, a report commissioned by the California state authorities discovered. Clients in low-income areas and areas with out substantial competitors have fared the worst, the report discovered. AT&T specifically was discovered to have uncared for low-income communities and to have imposed extreme worth will increase including as much as 152.6 p.c over a decade.

The report was written in April 2019 however stored personal as a result of knowledge submitted by the carriers was deemed confidential and proprietary. The report lastly turned public after the California Public Utilities Fee (CPUC) ruled in December 2020 {that a} redacted model needed to be launched by mid-January.

A abstract of the CPUC-commissioned report recognized six key findings:

  1. Service High quality has deteriorated: Each carriers exhibited the next relative variety of outages and longer time required to revive service for outages lasting greater than 24 hours.
  2. Demonstrated lack of resiliency: AT&T and Frontier will not be sustaining networks to resist environmental and weather-related situations. Networks will not be sturdy, each Incumbent Native Trade Carriers (ILECs) have in the reduction of on preventative upkeep expenditures.
  3. Disinvestment in Plain Outdated Phone Service (POTS): AT&T and Frontier are placing little or no funding into infrastructure that helps solely Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) service. Each ILECs are counting on worth will increase and buyer inertia to keep up income stream.
  4. Elevated funding in broadband improves POTS service high quality: AT&T and Frontier areas with increased broadband funding have the next stage of POTS service high quality and higher efficiency on all [service] metrics.
  5. AT&T is specializing in increased revenue communities: AT&T wire facilities serving areas with the bottom family incomes exhibit increased bother report charges and longer out-of-service durations than areas in increased revenue communities.
  6. Direct relationship between quantity of competitors and repair high quality outcomes: Areas with restricted or no competitors expertise decrease service high quality outcomes. Each AT&T and Frontier put extra funding and a spotlight in areas with increased charges of aggressive choices.

Frontier’s California community was owned and operated by Verizon till Frontier bought it in April 2016.

Lengthy outages

AT&T and Frontier each repeatedly failed to satisfy the state’s minimal commonplace to “restore 90 p.c of all out-of-service bother reviews inside 24 hours.”

“The requirement to clear a minimal 90 p.c of out-of-service (OOS) reviews inside 24 hours has by no means been met by AT&T since 2010. Verizon/Frontier met the OOS commonplace in solely two of the 96 months lined by this examine,” the report mentioned.

“AT&T has the monetary assets to keep up and improve its wireline community in California, however has but to take action,” the report additionally mentioned. “Frontier has a robust curiosity in pursuing such upgrades, however lacks the monetary capability to make the mandatory investments.” Frontier filed for bankruptcy in April 2020 whereas admitting that its monetary issues had been triggered largely by a “important under-investment in fiber deployment.”

The issue has gotten worse over time, the California report mentioned. “With a number of particular exceptions, the standard of AT&T and Frontier legacy voice companies has steadily declined over the examine interval, with outages occurring extra ceaselessly and repair restoration instances getting longer,” the report mentioned.

The report additional described AT&T’s failure to spend money on low-income communities on this paragraph:

Whether or not deliberate or not, AT&T’s funding insurance policies have tended to favor higher-income communities, and have thus had a disproportionate impression upon the state’s lowest revenue areas. For instance, the weighted common 2010 median annual family revenue for… areas that had been upgraded with fiber optic feeder amenities to help broadband companies was $72,024, vs. solely $60,795 for wire facilities with out such upgrades. Utilizing 2010 US Census knowledge, we discover a clear inverse relationship between family revenue and the entire principal service high quality metrics. Wire facilities serving areas with the bottom family incomes are likely to have the best bother report charges, the longest out-of-service durations, the bottom percentages of outages cleared inside 24 hours, and the longest instances required to clear 90 p.c of service outages. The alternative is the case for the best revenue communities.

AT&T’s quickly rising costs

AT&T “has raised its charges for legacy flat-rate residential service by 152.6 p.c because the service was de-tariffed by the CPUC in 2009,” the report mentioned. The worth will increase help a “harvesting” technique that maintains income “regardless of an enormous drop-off in demand” for landline telephone service.

AT&T “has ceased energetic advertising of POTS, has degraded POTS service high quality, and as a substitute depends upon successive worth will increase and buyer inertia to keep up its declining POTS income stream,” the CPUC report mentioned. Regardless of years of regular worth will increase, AT&T “made minimal investments in exterior plant rehabilitation, and has additionally allowed service high quality for its legacy companies to say no.”

AT&T’s flat-rate telephone worth in California rose from $10.69 per 30 days in 2006 to $27 in 2018, including as much as a 152.6 p.c improve, the report mentioned. The largest will increase started in 2009. Frontier and its predecessor Verizon raised the flat charge by 30.6 p.c (from $16.85 to $22) over the identical time-frame.

AT&T’s “measured charge” service, wherein the worth varies by the variety of calls made, rose in worth from $5.70 in 2006 to $24.25 in 2018, a 325.4 p.c improve. Frontier/Verizon’s measured charge costs elevated by 34 p.c in the identical time interval.

Telecom analyst Bruce Kushnick argued in a blog post today that telephone costs ought to have “plummeted” over time however that AT&T makes use of the income from its poorly maintained landline telephone service to pay for upgrades to its cell community. Kushnick and his “Irregulators” group have been calling for investigations into these “cross-subsidies.”

“In October 2020, the Irregulators filed with the CA Broadband Council and CA Public Utility Fee (CPUC) claiming that AT&T almost definitely has been overcharging clients billions of {dollars} yearly, and that it has been taking the development budgets that ought to have been devoted to the cities and houses in California and as a substitute has been diverting them to wi-fi as a substitute of upgrading the state telecom utility,” Kushnick wrote in the present day.

Although Frontier additionally raised costs over time, it has not “carried out the acute succession of great worth will increase for its legacy residential POTS companies” seen with AT&T, the report mentioned. The report additionally mentioned Frontier hasn’t used the “harvesting” technique carried out by AT&T.

“Frontier, as a ‘pure-play’ ILEC, has a robust incentive to keep up and to develop its buyer base, to not permit it to dissipate. These are all positives for Frontier’s future whether it is someway in a position to reverse its monetary decline,” the report mentioned.


We contacted AT&T and Frontier concerning the CPUC report in the present day and requested what steps the carriers have taken to enhance service high quality. We additionally requested the CPUC what actions it took in response to the report and whether or not AT&T and Frontier service has gotten higher or worse because the report was written in April 2019. We’ll replace this text if we get any responses.

Frontier recently agreed to increase its fiber-to-the-premises community and enhance its poor service high quality in California as a part of a settlement that can assist the corporate exit chapter. Frontier additionally agreed to momentary worth freezes on voice service by the remainder of 2021.

AT&T in October stopped providing legacy DSL service to new clients regardless of having didn’t improve tens of tens of millions of legacy DSL traces throughout the US to fiber. AT&T continues to promote DSL to present clients.

AT&T’s newest embarrassment occurred this month when a 90-year-old buyer in California paid for a Wall Street Journal print ad to complain about his gradual DSL Web service. The dangerous publicity shamed AT&T into upgrading his residence to fiber. However because the CPUC report notes, AT&T has didn’t adequately preserve its community, leaving many DSL Web and landline telephone clients with outdated and unreliable service that continues to worsen.

Replace: Frontier issued a response, saying, “The report covers a time interval largely previous to Frontier’s possession and affords suggestions to regulators, not mandates to suppliers. Whereas Frontier doesn’t agree with all of the conclusions, we proceed working cooperatively to deal with service high quality and reported important enhancements in our most up-to-date report back to the CPUC. We are going to preserve a deal with high quality and persevering with to create advantages for our clients and the California communities we serve.”

AT&T issued an announcement, saying, “The report is biased, ignores the persevering with transformation of the communications market, and depends on an outdated and flawed efficiency metric that has little relevance to clients’ precise expertise. Maintaining clients related is crucial to us—and the truth is we now have exceeded the state commonplace for community reliability since 1990. The CPUC’s report as a substitute selectively depends on a unique, flawed metric and makes conclusions with none regard for the reliability commonplace that we do meet. We have invested $8.78 billion in our networks in California during the last three years (2017-2019) to extend reliability, velocity, and protection—a rise over the earlier 3-year interval—and we have invested tens of millions in a rural broadband buildout effort to succeed in over 140,000 houses and rural companies in California, which the report fully ignores.”

AT&T’s assertion refers to a “reliability commonplace that we do meet,” in reference to the “buyer bother reviews” commonplace that enables six bother reviews per 100 telephone traces every month. The CPUC-commissioned report mentioned this commonplace needs to be modified as a result of it “is so simply glad that it has by no means been missed by both [AT&T or Frontier] at the same time as their total service high quality has deteriorated.”

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