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Why is AT&T ending discounts for low-income customers with landline phones?

Two fraudulent calls from ICE agent impersonators targeted Palos Park residents August 4 and 6, 2019.
Phone giant ATT sent letters saying it would end discounts for low-income customers who want landline phones. File Photo /Robert F. Bukaty

I want to give your readers an update on the latest move by AT&T to push people off the traditional home phone service they have relied upon for decades.

This past September, we began to field calls from worried landline customers, including seniors on fixed incomes, who were among an estimated 5,300 customers to receive a letter from AT&T with the blunt headline: “Your Lifeline discount ends November 20, 2018.” The letter referred to the federal Lifeline program, which offers a monthly credit of up to $11.75 for qualifying low-income customers.

“I will have to discontinue AT&T landline phone,” wrote one woman who received the letter. “I can’t afford it.”

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

In 2017, the Illinois General Assembly voted, over opposition by the Citizens Utility Board, to give AT&T the right to end landline phone service in the state. But first, the company needs Federal Communications Commission approval. AT&T has not yet sought that approval and said in 2017 it could be years before landline service ends. “Traditional landline phone service from AT&T is not going away anytime soon,” the phone giant said. “No one will be left behind. We value our customers, and we want to keep them.”

So if AT&T is obligated to offer landline service and it truly does value its customers, then why is it kicking customers who need that service most off its network?

The AT&T letter outlines the choices for customers: Stay with AT&T landline service, but without the credit, or seek another carrier that participates in Lifeline. The problem is, most of those carriers are wireless companies. Cellphones are not a perfect substitute for landlines, until 911 systems are fully upgraded across Illinois. Currently, 911 operators can’t always pinpoint the location of an emergency call from a cellphone, as they can a call from a landline.

CUB will do everything it can to challenge AT&T whenever it goes before the FCC to end landline service. In the meantime, we call on AT&T to reinstate the Lifeline discount immediately. Kicking low-income consumers off its network is not a good look for AT&T.

Bryan McDaniel, director of governmental affairs, Citizens Utility Board

Clean energy future

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a startling report on the dire state of the environment, and the short time we have left before the atmosphere reaches irreversible levels of warming. Climate change is a moral and ethical issue, and a city of people raising children who will have to live through the global instability caused by climate change have a duty to act. One of the most impactful ways Chicago can make a difference is by going 100% renewable.

Even with the dire news reports, it’s easy to get lost in an illusion that climate change is not occurring. We live in a part of the world that, for the most part, seems pretty comfortable and safe from its effects. But while we gas up our cars and heat up our homes with emission-creating oil and gas, those in the Maldives face the very real possibility that the majority of their island will be underwater by the end of the century, whether or not we halt climate change. Some of our favorite travel spots are vulnerable to coastal flooding by 2050. Think New York and Miami. Not to mention the increase in forest fires and droughts expected in California.

According to the National Climate Assessment, in the Midwest “extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.”

So, what can Chicago do? Start with our energy supply. Buildings emit 39% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and we have the power to change our source of energy to heat, cool and light those buildings. Chicago is a major city, and has the opportunity to be a leader in the future of sustainability by becoming 100% renewable. That would contribute to the reversal of climate change, and sustainability is highly attractive to new homebuyers considering the city as their permanent residence, rather than the suburbs. Many cities have committed to go 100% renewable, including Berkeley, California; Amherst, Massachusetts; Middleton, Wisconsin; Salt Lake City; and Portland, Oregon.

Many options are available for your home. I urge individuals to seriously consider switching their energy source, and to use their voice to tell our politicians that we want to move forward into a clean energy future.

Lucia Whalen, Forest Park