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Verizon Resolves Calif. Tracfone Migration Dispute in Part

A Verizon settlement with California consumer advocates last week resolves just one part of a fight over the carrier’s difficulties migrating Tracfone customers still using non-Verizon networks in California, each of the parties said Friday. The Center for Accessible Technology (CforAT) posted a settlement Thursday with Verizon’s Tracfone and The Utility Reform Network (TURN) in docket A.20-11-001 at the California Public Utilities Commission, as expected (see 2402160019).

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CforAT asked to withdraw its Oct. 6 petition that modifies the CPUC’s November 2021 decision approving the Verizon/Tracfone deal. That petition asked the CPUC to require Verizon to provide free Verizon-network compatible devices to any Tracfone customer who bought service the day after the acquisition was approved for devices that work on only AT&T or T-Mobile networks. While an administrative law judge still must decide the motion to withdraw, CforAT said it doesn’t expect Verizon or TURN to oppose it.

Under the settlement, Tracfone would serve those post-acquisition customers on third-party networks until at least Dec. 31, 2025. Also, the company would give customers 60 days' notice that they must migrate to the Verizon network to continue service and notify CforAT and TURN at least 30 days before providing that notice. Tracfone would provide a SIM card or replacement handset at no cost to the customer if required; that offer would stand for terminated customers for 30 days after losing service. "Additionally, the settlement provides for in-language and accessible communications to post-acquisition customers, prorated refunds for services that would have terminated after the termination date, and a toll-free number for customers needing assistance,” CforAT said.

The settlement doesn’t resolve the docket completely,” CforAT Legal Counsel Paul Goodman told us. The parties reached agreement on issues about customers who bought Tracfone service after Nov. 19, 2021, but not before, he said. “The proceeding will remain open until the Commission resolves the issues regarding the pre-Nov. 19 customers.”

The CPUC's conditional OK required Verizon to migrate everyone who was a Tracfone customer on the date of the final decision, Goodman said. That was to involve giving those customers a SIM or replacement device, he said. But CforAT learned last year that, after the combination, Verizon continued to sign Tracfone customers using devices that worked on AT&T or T-Mobile networks only, Goodman said. “These folks weren’t protected by the decision because they signed up for service after the day the decision became final.” That was the impetus for CforAT’s Oct. 6 petition, but now the parties have reached a settlement providing “essentially the same protections contained in the decision” to the post-acquisition customers, he said.

However, Verizon’s separate modification petition on migration of pre-acquisition Tracfone customers remains active at the CPUC, said Goodman. Verizon in July asked the CPUC not to impose automatic penalties from the 2021 merger decision for failing to migrate all customers in two years (see 2307280060). Two weeks before the deadline, the CPUC gave Verizon another year -- until Nov. 22, 2024 -- to complete the migration (see 2311080071).

Verizon won’t oppose CforAT’s motion to withdraw the Oct. 6 petition, a Verizon spokesperson said Friday. “But also know that the settlement with CforAT and TURN does not resolve all issues in the docket. We have our own petition for modification that is still pending resolution.”

Nor will TURN oppose CforAT’s motion, TURN Acting Telecommunications Managing Attorney Ashley Salas told us. But the parties’ pact “only resolves a narrow post-merger issue,” she said. “All other post-merger matters remain unresolved.”