AT&T and Frontier have let their copper phone networks deteriorate through neglect since 2010, resulting in poor service quality and many lengthy outages, a report commissioned by the California state government found. Customers in low-income areas and areas without substantial competition have fared the worst, the report found. AT&T in particular was found to have neglected low-income communities and to have imposed severe price increases adding up to 152.6 percent over a decade.
The report was written in April 2019 but kept private because data submitted by the carriers was deemed confidential and proprietary. The report finally became public after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled in December 2020 that a redacted version had to be released by mid-January.
A summary of the CPUC-commissioned report identified six key findings:
- Service Quality has deteriorated: Both carriers exhibited a higher relative number of outages and longer time required to restore service for outages lasting more than 24 hours.
- Demonstrated lack of resiliency: AT&T and Frontier are not maintaining networks to withstand environmental and weather-related conditions. Networks are not robust, both Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) have cut back on preventative maintenance expenditures.
- Disinvestment in Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS): AT&T and Frontier are putting very little investment into infrastructure that supports only Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) service. Both ILECs are relying on price increases and customer inertia to maintain revenue stream.
- Increased investment in broadband improves POTS service quality: AT&T and Frontier areas with higher broadband investment have a higher level of POTS service quality and better performance on all [service] metrics.
- AT&T is focusing on higher income communities: AT&T wire centers serving areas with the lowest household incomes exhibit higher trouble report rates and longer out-of-service durations than areas in higher income communities.
- Direct relationship between amount of competition and service quality results: Areas with limited or no competition experience lower service quality results. Both AT&T and Frontier put more investment and attention in areas with higher rates of competitive offerings.
Frontier’s California network was owned and operated by Verizon until Frontier bought it in April 2016.
AT&T and Frontier both repeatedly failed to meet the state’s minimum standard to “repair 90 percent of all out-of-service trouble reports within 24 hours.”
“The requirement to clear a minimum 90 percent of out-of-service (OOS) reports within 24 hours has never been met by AT&T since 2010. Verizon/Frontier met the OOS standard in only two of the 96 months covered by this study,” the report said.