AT&T Ohio to Drop Rural Landline Discount
By Mark Williams, The Columbus Dispatch, March 14, 2019
AT&T Ohio has gotten permission from state regulators to drop out of a program that helps poor consumers living in most of its service territory afford telephone service.
AT&T will stop providing Lifeline discounts to the majority of its landline customers on June 11, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio ruled Wednesday. The company serves 7,301 landline customers enrolled in the program in Ohio, many in rural parts of the state, according to the most recent federal data.
AT&T made the request last summer, noting in a filing that the number of traditional residential landlines fell 81 percent between 2005 and 2015, and that the number of AT&T Lifeline customers has plummeted as well, even as the total number of Lifeline customers has grown in Ohio.
Groups representing low-income consumers complained that the proposal hurts those who depend on their landline to communicate with caregivers, friends and family. They note that cellphone coverage in some rural areas can be spotty, so a landline is vital.
Customers enrolled in the program receive a $9.25 monthly credit. The Federal Communications Commission establishes the amount of the discount. The FCC is phasing out the discount for voice-only phone lines by December 2021.
AT&T Ohio will continue to provide landline telephone service to all of its current customers. However, customers wishing to continue to receive discounts through Lifeline will need to find another company, the PUCO said. A list of those companies is available at at www.lifelinesupport.org.
Affected AT&T Ohio customers who can't find an alternative are encouraged to notify the PUCO by Aug. 10. The PUCO will assist consumers in finding an alternative provider and, if one does not exist, AT&T will continue to provide a discount for an additional year.
A PUCO staff investigation determined that wireless providers offering Lifeline discounts cover 99.85 percent of AT&T Ohio's affected service territory.
"Don't make me summon the flying monkeys...."