Today, Public Knowledge, joined by The Greenlining Institute, The Utility Reform Network, and National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, filed a Petition for Review with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The petition asks the court to reverse and vacate the Federal Communications Commission’s November Order rolling back the agency’s consumer protections for Americans on legacy copper phone lines.

More than 76 million people — especially low-income and elderly individuals — still rely on copper lines for telecommunications services. Many rural communities have no cable provider and poor wireless coverage, making traditional copper the only option for broadband, or even basic voice services such as 911. Millions of Americans could lose access to vital communications services without the protections the FCC is moving to rescind in this new Order.

Last month’s Order reverses rules the FCC adopted in 2015 to protect individuals and communities still dependent on legacy copper lines as telephone companies retire them. The FCC eliminated the ability of communities to demand that phone companies maintain copper lines until those lines are replaced with an adequate and comparable service, rather than simply abandoning them (called “de facto retirement”). The FCC also eliminated the “functional test,” which required phone companies to support essential non-voice services, such as alarm systems, medical monitors, and small business services, during the transition to fiber. Finally, the FCC eliminated the 180-day notice requirement for individuals and business customers, making it much more difficult for those still relying on copper lines to minimize the cost and disruption of finding adequate replacement services.

Public Knowledge and The Greenlining Institute believe this rollback will harm rural communities that already struggle economically and will widen the digital divide. Additionally, the cost of the transition will fall most heavily on those who can least afford it and who are already on the wrong end of that divide: the elderly, the poor, and America’s growing rural communities of color. Petitioners ask the Ninth Circuit to reverse the November rollback of these protections as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law.”

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“The protections the FCC previously adopted ensured that the retirement of legacy phone services would be an upgrade for everyone, not an upgrade for some and a downgrade for others. The FCC claims that removing these protection will encourage telephone companies to upgrade their networks more quickly. But it practically guarantees that these companies will continue to leave rural America behind.”

The following can be attributed to Vinhcent Le, Telecommunications Legal Counsel at The Greenlining Institute:

“The FCC’s continual rollback of consumer protections to benefit telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon is unprecedented. This order will harm millions in rural communities, and will especially harm the over 10 million people of color who live in rural communities and who already have fewer resources and face greater obstacles to economic opportunity than their neighbors.”

You may read the Petition for Review for more information.