As noted last week, Verizon is informing Sandy victims who've been waiting for seven months that they'll never have their DSL lines repaired
. Instead, users are being given Voice Link, a service that connects home phones to the Verizon Wireless network but has a few kinks and fails to offer data. It's part of a national effort by both AT&T and Verizon to gut the regulations governing copper networks -- so they can sever the huge parts of their networks they don't want to upgrade and drive these users either to wireless or their cable
competitors marketing partners
For obvious financial reasons, AT&T and Verizon would prefer this happens quickly and without much thought as to the repercussions. As such both are framing this as an attempt to "modernize regulation" as we shift to an "all IP" future, even if tens of millions of customers -- including nealy all of AT&T's "next-gen" U-Verse users -- are still using said copper.
In Kansas and Kentucky, AT&T is using astroturfers to promise locals
that if they eliminate regulations requiring they keep providing copper services at reasonable rates, those users will somehow see more
broadband deployment (tip: they won't). Verizon has had the fortune of being able to use Sandy damage as a cover for the exact same strategy on the East Coast.
Both companies imply the death of the PSTN and copper is countered by expansion of fixed-line upgrades like FiOS and U-Verse -- except in reality that's not happening. With the exception of a few remaining cities
-- deployment of those services was shelved years ago
to focus on more profitable wireless. With next-gen expansion frozen and older DSL lines potentially being severed, we're potentially creating broadband coverage gaps at a time we profess to be eliminating them.
The migration away from copper requires some serious thought. AT&T and Verizon's plans will have a huge impact on those who'll lose DSL service entirely in areas these companies no longer want to service, those who'll lose functionality (see: Voice Link
users), and those who'll pay much more for capped wireless than they ever did for uncapped DSL. The elimination of these lines also weakens competition and strengthens local cable monopolies, which will result in higher prices for cable users as well.
In a sign the FCC is at least taking some time to think about this transition, the agency late last week issued a Public Notice
seeking comment on whether to conduct a "pilot program," whereby the agency could test the impact of carriers eliminating copper in exchange for wireless services or voice-over-IP (VOIP) service. That's not to say the FCC will actually do anything
to help fix the myriad of problems the death of the PSTN will cause, but at least it shows they're not wholly oblivious to what is going on.
Consumer group Public Knowledge argued the FCC's proposal was a good idea, since companies like Verizon are already conducting their own "trials" post Sandy.
"Verizon's decision to replace the copper network destroyed by Hurricane Sandy with untested technologies in communities like Fire Island, New York, show that without a clear path forward carriers will run their own 'pilot projects' without worrying about possible problems for the local communities," said the group. "Given this reality on the ground, the better approach is the one proposed by the FCC today. Design a real test program with adequate safeguards that will give us real data to inform the transition."
AT&T would prefer the FCC move faster with less thinkin' and such.
"Today's public notice is a step forward, though we are disappointed the FCC still appears tentative about dealing with the IP transition, especially when compared with the bold and visionary goals of the National Broadband Plan," the company said in a statement. "Certainly, this notice might yield some interesting information, and we will of course cooperate fully with the FCC. We also intend to provide further detail on our proposed geographic trials as requested today, though, we are puzzled it took the FCC six months to decide it needed such information."
Regular readers of course know our broadband plan isn't worth much
, but to hear AT&T call it "bold and visionary" should confirm that for you. This will be a good litmus test for former lobbyist and upcoming new FCC boss Tom Wheeler
to determine precisely which side of his bread is buttered.