Connecticut Attorney General's Office

Press Release

Attorney General, As AT&T Announces Job Cuts, Urges Stronger Phone Service Standards At Public Hearing

January 5, 2010

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, speaking at a public hearing today, urged the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) to strengthen customer service standards requiring that AT&T adequately maintain and repair its landline telephone service.

"More than justice for workers or jobs for our economy, at stake here is basic service to consumers essential for health and safety," Blumenthal said. "AT&T's announcement of 160 more layoffs -- after as many as 1,400 over the last two years -- adds urgency and importance to sustaining and strengthening critical service standards.

"Having consistently and contemptuously broken the rules since 2001, AT&T now asks to abandon them -- cutting accountability for faulty phone lines and flimsy service. These landlines are lifelines for countless consumers -- in need of emergency health care or police protection, or in areas lacking reliable wireless service. Diminishing numbers of landlines or increasing competition are no excuse for abandoning service standards that protect people who deserve and demand such service. AT&T seeks to abandon the test, after failing it.

"Raising the service bar -- not lowering it at AT&T's behest -- is the best next step. We seek stringent standards for service quality combined with compelling penalties.

"AT&T is literally hanging up on consumers -- slashing jobs and service quality, even after violating state customer service standards. Our message to the DPUC: don't let AT&T off the hook. Preserve customer service standards to protect consumers."

The DPUC is considering whether to amend or even eliminate the state's customer service standards for landlines (AT&T is the predominant landline provider in Connecticut) in light of telecommunication advancements that have created more landline alternatives such as cellular phones and Internet-based phones.

Blumenthal said the DPUC should continue to require that AT&T meet minimum service standards -- and increase penalties -- because millions of Connecticut consumers continue to rely on their landlines, in some cases for life-saving access to 911.

Last year the DPUC imposed only a light penalty against AT&T for failing to quickly repair malfunctioning phone lines, and is now considering whether to keep these standards at all, Blumenthal said.

"Even with competition for wireless, Internet and cable-based service, AT&T is still the 800-pound gorilla in Connecticut communications, and it should be compelled to comply with reasonable public service rules. The right response is to sustain and strengthen the standards. State standards should require that AT&T quickly repair lines or face penalties. Broken service enrages and endangers consumers."

The existing standards require that AT&T fix 90 percent of out-of-service phones within 24 hours, a standard that the company has failed since 2001 to meet. The standards also require that AT&T make its maintenance appointments on time, promptly install service and maintain at least a minimum of working landlines at all times.