As I've been discussing a lot lately
(because it's the most important issue facing the broadband sector right now), both AT&T and Verizon are in the process of gutting regulations that require they continue offering copper landlines -- and by proxy DSL -- to tens of millions of Americans. Both companies insist that they're simply interested in "modernizing regulations" and ushering us into an "all IP age." In reality, both companies simply want to exit the fixed-line market in areas they're unwilling to upgrade.
That's a move that has serious repercussions in the form of increased broadband coverage gaps, higher prices, stronger cable monopolies and lower-quality service. What happens to these users is part of one of the biggest shifts this industry has ever seen. The FCC this week simply noted that they'd be taking a closer look at this transition
, in the form of "Pilot programs" that can study the transition from the copper PSTN to wireless and/or VoIP.
This modest proposal outraged AT&T, who'd very much like to sever tens of millions of in-use DSL lines nobody wants to buy -- and they don't want to upgrade -- without anyone studying the way this would impact you. In a piece over at CNET
, contributor Larry Downes channels this bogus carrier outrage in a dubious piece that trots out all the industry's usual bogeymen, such as the well-worn yarn that the government simply studying an issue stifles network investment:
The notice was disappointing to advocates who see the IP transition as a potential catalyst in connecting more Americans to the broadband ecosystem, a goal far more likely with the switched network definitively shut off in favor of native IP technology. According to Fred Campbell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a former bureau chief at the FCC, Friday's notice is "more likely to discourage future investment in Internet infrastructure than to accelerate it."
Yes, nothing "connects more Americans to the broadband ecosystem" quite like killing off regulations requiring they keep providing DSL and POTS lines. Downes also apparently didn't get the memo that AT&T and Verizon have largely shelved next-generation fixed-line investment plans (excluding regulatory obligations), and any remaining much-ballyhooed expansion plans remaining will be rather puny in scope
. Downes is undaunted by the reality that these moves could cause more coverage gaps, not less, and parrots carrier claims that this shift to "all IP" is somehow a magical panacea for everyone:
Eventually, perhaps soon, nearly every American will have made the leap to better and cheaper IP technologies, leaving the carriers to operate and maintain legacy wireline networks for only a few holdouts.
Gosh, that sounds magical! Except people still on DSL aren't a "few holdouts," they're tens of millions of people -- many with no other options. Nobody wants to keep them, nobody wants to buy them, and nobody wants to upgrade them. Despite what carriers claim, wireless is not a supplement for fixed-line data services -- and severing their copper lines and insisting wireless is good enough is not a story that ends well.
Downes, like carriers, also happily conflates the shift to IP services with the shift away from copper, even though services like AT&T's U-Verse is an IP product that runs over copper
(derp). The conflation allows carriers to pretend that what they're doing is progress. Like in Kentucky
, where AT&T lobbyists are outright lying to locals -- claiming that gutting regulatory oversight over POTS will result in a phantom U-Verse expansion that simply doesn't exist.
To sell this narrative on national scale as lobbyists worm their way state to state, the phone companies have been paying their usual assortment of think tankers, astroturfers, fake consumer advocates, payrolled academics and policy mavens to spin yarns (note any similarities in this piece by Steve Forbes?
). Said flacks are paid to argue that gutting all regulation -- in a sector dominated by incumbent anti-competitive carriers -- somehow magically results in telecom Utopia.
Neither Downes or CNET discloses that Downes, as a consultant, takes any money from companies with a vested interest in this deregulation. As such, the fact that his logic almost perfectly mirrors AT&T and Verizon talking points (and a string of carbon copy editorials paid for by said companies) surely must be pure happenstance. Downes continues:
Why do we even need trials when the transition is happening anyway, without any help from federal and state regulators?The answer is that by doing nothing while an organic IP transition takes place, the FCC is skewing the process and needlessly slowing private investment.
Actually no, we need trials because as we are seeing with Sandy victims in Verizon territory
, the services being used (Voice Link) to replace DSL are less useful, glitchy, don't show callerID names, won't work during a power outage, and don't provide data services. Users used to uncapped DSL who want data suddenly face heavily capped wireless lines with $15 per gigabyte overages -- assuming they can even get cellular signal in their neck of the woods. For many these will be costly downgrades, not upgrades. Not quite the fantasy scenario Downes hallucinates.
Thanks to these kinds of editorials, what should be an intelligent conversation about our transition away from the PSTN and toward next-generation connectivity, is awash in bunk carrier logic, conflated technologies and empty promises. In ten years, when the public wakes up and wonders why they now only have the choice of an over-priced cable competitor or an absurdly-capped wireless line -- they can thank guys like Larry Downes and Steve Forbes for helping AT&T and Verizon usher forth this magical "all IP transition."