AT&T proposes ending California landline service, customers want to keep lifeline

A proposal by phone and internet service provider, AT&T, to end landline service for most Californians is drawing backlash. Some people fear losing the century-old communications avenue could leave them cutoff in case of catastrophe.

During rainy season in the Santa Cruz Mountains, slippery roads, downed trees, and loss of electric and cell phone service are regular occurrences. Dangling above the roadways is a series of phone hardlines that are a literal communications lifeline.

"The landline will work when other phones don’t work at all," said Watsonville resident Brian Kane, as he took shelter under the awning outside the Ben Lomond Farmer’s Market. "Bad idea to get rid of the landlines for sure."

AT&T is holding public hearings on its 2022 request to the state to end hardline phone service for almost all of California. Executives have said that forcing the one-time monopoly to maintain so-called "Carrier of Last Resort" status puts it at a competitive disadvantage.

For the state’s isolated communities that are out of reach of cell towers, landlines, which are connected directly to a home or business, are the only way to stay connected to the outside world.

"This is a real problem for our folks living in the mountain communities who rely on that landline in case of an emergency," said Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, (D) Santa Cruz.

Part of her Dist. 28 includes areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Within this week, that area has been inundated with rain, downed trees, power outages, and loss of cell phone service.

"Living up here, it’s harsh. And it’s very close to Silicon Valley, but it’s a different lifestyle. And people have to sign up for that when they move up here," said Shelley, a Boulder Creek resident who did not want to provide her last name.

Some residents have written the California Public Utilities Commission urging its members to reject AT&T's request. Others are reaching out to their elected state representatives, such as Pellerin.

"We wrote a letter to the PUC expressing our concern with this proposal," she said. "It is not just a landline it is a lifeline. And we’re dealing with a situation where this could be the difference between somebody surviving through an emergency or losing their life during an emergency."

Pellerin is calling for more public hearings in areas closer to the Bay Area. The most recent was Tuesday night in Clovis. The next is Feb. 22 at the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter), @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv