As I've been discussing, Verizon and AT&T have been going state to state for more than a year, trying to gut regulations requiring they continue to provide DSL and POTS so they can start walking away from huge swaths of the country they're unwilling to upgrade. Verizon has been using Sandy damage and necessary repairs as cover, telling Sandy victims
some ten months later their DSL and POTS lines will never be repaired.
Instead, Verizon is forcing something on those users called Voice Link, a wireless product that's substantially less useful and functional than a landline, and offers no data connectivity option.
After staring at their shoes for a while on the issue, the FCC recently stated
they wanted to ensure this important transition has a little guidance via "pilot programs," so users aren't just suddenly waking up one day without service.
In an important but quiet public notice this week
(pdf) the FCC took Verizon's Section 214(a) request to be allowed to kill copper in Sandy areas off of their "fast track." Harold Feld, consumer advocate and lawyer over at Public Knowledge, explains how this is a good thing over at his blog
Had the FCC not acted before August 27, the request would have been automatically granted.
As decisions go, the decision to take Verizon’s 214(a) off fast track and thoroughly consider all aspects and implications of this first ever complete replacement of traditional copper service with fixed wireless seems like a fairly obvious no brainer. To the contrary, simply allowing such a radical change in service to happen by default should be unthinkable. Of course, it helps that the right thing to do here (taking this off fast track) also pushes the controversial decision down the road until Tom Wheeler can get confirmed as FCC Chair.
So, it's good in that the FCC didn't just lazily allow Verizon to start yanking copper lines without allowing states and the FCC to adequately study the impact. It's bad in that this really simply amounts to kicking the can down the road, so new FCC boss Tom Wheeler (former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries) can be the one to really make the decisions. I have of course disagreed with Feld and Public Knowledge
about whether or not a 30-year lobbyist will seriously stand up for consumer rights, regardless of how smart and capable he might be.
Verizon and AT&T have been portraying the yanking of DSL and POTS in areas they refuse to upgrade as part of a magical IP transition to a grander communications age
. In reality, they're just hanging up on fixed-line users they were too cheap to upgrade so they can push those users on to wireless, then pummel them with massive, costly per gigabyte overages. In the process they're ceding dominance of huge swaths of already uncompetitive US fixed line broadband markets to their new marketing partners, the cable industry
If over the next few months you find Wheeler mirroring the flowery language used by lobbyists for what is effectively an uncompetitive and troubling shift, you'll have a good indication of whether consumers are going to get screwed or not during this process.