Seniors fear deregulation may leave them without service
"The earlier definition of basic service was from 1996 so there was a need to update that definition to include wireless service," said Johnston, adding that the commission approved redefinition of "basic service" in December. That redefinition included offering Lifeline to "wireless and non traditional providers." The definition reads: "Any basic service provider offering basic service must offer Lifeline rates on a non-discriminatory basis to eligible customers within the region where the provider offers basic service."
But the service isn't yet available for wireless or VoIP — and some fear that the current program will eclipse before a new one is in place. Johnston said a meeting is set for January 29 to discuss the scope of rules for Lifeline, and public hearings will be held around the state later this year to address this and other issues related to telecom deregulation.
The argument that landline phones are dying out may have some validity, but their benefits and practicality are evident — take for instance weather emergencies. After Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast a few months ago, many towers providing service to cell phones went down. Landline users, however, were unaffected and still able to get in touch with family and emergency services.
According to Johnston, the commission is well aware of the benefits. "They want to make sure the wire line remains available because it has traditionally been the more reliable service."
The notion that landlines phones are becoming obsolete has some consumer advocates rolling their eyes. "Most people in California have both cell phones and landlines," said Toney.