California regulators should embrace a wireless future

In the past two decades, 90% of Californians upgraded their wired telephone services to cellular. The allure? Freedom from wires, seamless communication on-the-go, enhanced public safety features and sheer convenience. The future is, without a doubt, wireless.

And yet, the California Public Utilities Commission seems to be hesitating and giving undue consideration to people opposed to technical progress.

The first wired phones came to life in the late 1800s. Most of the existing telephone wires today have withstood more than a half century. These copper wires, relics of another age, can hardly support basic dial-up modems, let alone the broadband services we’ve grown dependent upon.

Despite this, owing to outdated regulatory agreements, telephone companies are obligated to pour billions of dollars in time and resources into this declining network. This, even when most areas have better alternatives available. It’s not just a waste — it’s counterproductive.

While the CPUC is often well-meaning, it is unfortunately being held back by a minority of naysayers who are opposed to technical progress. It’s time for the commission to move our state’s communications network forward to the 21st century.

Currently, the CPUC is holding hearings to consider making much-needed regulatory reform. It’s time. The commission should stop requiring that telephone companies maintain antiquated systems that consumers have shown they no longer want or need. It should allow the companies to refocus their resources to modernize and meet Californians’ demands.

Look at the facts. In 2021, the Public Policy Institute of California revealed that 95% of Californian households were internet-enabled. Reports from both the Field Poll and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which surveys Americans on the issue as part of its biannual health poll, found the same massive swing from landlines to smartphones. The message is loud and clear: Californians have moved on from wired telephones.

Once, wired telephones were our only long-distance voice option. Now choices abound. Beyond cell services, cable broadband and apps such as FaceTime and WhatsApp have emerged as popular voice communication channels. Given the alternatives, telephone companies are seeking to redirect funds from maintaining outdated wires to developing and deploying advanced technologies like cellular and fiber optics.

Cellular is also crucial for public safety. Last month, the indispensability of our smartphones was highlighted in life-saving scenarios. The nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system, California’s test of its earthquake early warning during the ShakeOut drill, and an actual quake’s automated shake warnings emphasized smartphones’ integral role in public safety. They aren’t just entertainment gadgets — they’re our emergency lifelines.

Here’s why the cellular transition is crucial for our safety:

• Immediate alerting: Smartphones, always within our grasp, now offer instant, wide-reaching emergency alerts.

• Mobility and accessibility: In an age of unforeseen emergencies, we aren’t always glued to our TVs, radios or landline phones. Cellular alerts, especially during abrupt evacuations from wildfires or tsunamis, are now invaluable.