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    Landline Overview & Action Steps

    Due in part to efforts by our landline provider, AT&T, landline phone service has been gradually disappearing from our community.  Here in the Hollow there’s a profound understanding of how beneficial a landline is in times of need. Still, an increasing number of our neighbors believe that they “luckily still have a landline”, only to find out that the service goes down immediately during power outages: their service is not a land line and the misunderstanding is due to sometimes confusing marketing efforts on the part of the phone companies, so we’ll devote a bit of space here for clarity on the subject.

    A true landline is:

    A landline is a copper wire phone line connecting your home to the phone service directly (in our case, tying us to switching and power stations in San Rafael).  Some also refer to this as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).  This technology has been reliable for a century or more.

    Most critically, the copper line carries enough electricity to power and ring a conventional landline phone, and due to State, and sometime Federal regulations enacted decades ago, certain California telecoms are required to keep backup power on those lines for at least 72 hours during electrical outages.  That 72+ hours of uptime allows phone calls to be made and received even when the power is out for multiple days at your home or business.

    In our area, this regulation is known as Carrier of Last Resort (COLS) granted AT&T a monopoly on our local phone service, starting in the 1980’s, in exchange for complying with reliability requirements, among other things.

    What has changed with landlines and why are they becoming rare?

    Presently, the phone companies are eager to do away with copper lines and their costs of line upkeep and backup protection via generator and battery power, during power outages.  Those uptime requirements usually do not apply to other services like cellular and fiber optic.  As a result we’ve seen two things happening in our community for decades:

    1. Basic landline service, should you be fortunate to still have a copper wire running from the pole to your home, is priced at cost that would discourage many subscribers.  Recent inquiries show a price approaching $700/year for basic local service with no long distance (on a plan where a call as close as San Francisco is billed as long distance)

    2. When fiber optic (high speed internet) service is sold to new subscribers, the phone company often takes the opportunity to remove out the copper line running to the house, sometimes without discussion or permission, and if questioned they may state that the line is no longer needed (this was our exact experience after purchasing AT&T high speed internet in 2020).   This effort goes hand in hand with telecoms marketing internet service, usually via fiber optic, stating that “you still get a land line and can keep your phone number with this upgraded service”

    The problem with that “updated service and landline” is it really just an internet connection and phone calls going forward are made over the internet, not unlike other “internet phone call” communications like Skype or WhatsApp or a FaceTime call.  So, when your power goes out, the internet modem supplied to you shuts down, and your communications are out of service.

    On this note: this year we’ve seen door to door sales efforts within the past 60 days here in Sleepy Hollow, by a contracted firm pitching residents on switching over to new and better service, which in reality means giving up your copper and switching to an Internet phone.  This marketing is confusing to many residents who aren’t versed in all these minutiae of telecom technology - if you value the reliability of a landline during power outages, steer clear of these sales efforts.

    What to do about it?

    You can learn more from Supervisor Katie Rice’s in the Spring Bulletin (page 2) and read more from Marin County here.  The Board of Supervisors are engaged on the topic and the county has provided a good online summary of the issues, as well as copies of their correspondence with CPUC. Click for the Feb 16 2024 letter from Marin County Board of Supervisors to CPUC: Opposing AT&T Application, Relief of Carrier of Last Resort Obligation.

    To engage in the process: please make a comment to the CA PUC regarding AT&Ts proposal here.

    In addition to contacting the PUC, you can reach out to your county, state and federal representatives reps to share your comments and concerns.

    To maintain communication: If you still have a copper landline, keep it!

    If you’ve already lost your copper landline: a battery backup for your AT&T modem will allow you to continue using your high speed internet connection for as long as that battery provides power.  You can purchase a small backup supply (Costco sells them or Batteries Plus in San Rafael) that gives approximately 2 hours of additional calling time at the outset of a power outage. This gives a short window to wrap up communications and head to the Sleepy Hollow Community Center to take advantage of the generator and internet connection there as needed.

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