The FCC today voted unanimously to begin conducting voluntary trials to ensure a relatively smooth and reasonable transition away from the PSTN and copper networks. The push for such trials began in earnest after Verizon refused to repair the DSL and copper POTS lines of hurricane Sandy victims, instead forcing them to instead use an inferior wireless-based product
known as VoiceLink, which doesn't work with alarm systems, has numerous glitches, and doesn't provide data connectivity.
Verizon's insistence that this was "good enough," and the immense public backlash to that claim, forced the FCC to admit that this transition might need a regulatory guiding hand.
In an FCC announcement
, the FCC says the carrier deadline for the voluntary trials are due by February 20, followed by a public comment period ending March 30. The trials themselves will be conducted for one year. The FCC insists that the process of ensuring a smooth transition away from the PSTN will be guided by four major principles:
•Public safety communications must be available no matter the technology
•All Americans must have access to affordable communications services
•Competition in the marketplace provides choice for consumers and businesses
•Consumer protection is paramount
Keep those promises at the very front of your mind as this effort moves forward. Particularly the ones promising affordability, choice and competition -- since there's a very good likelihood this transition will make all three dramatically worse.
Carriers, bewitched by the immense profits in wireless and bored with the slower returns from fixed-line residential networks, have set the stage to hang up on tens of millions of DSL and POTS users in similar fashion over the next few years, informing them that very expensive and heavily capped wireless service is good enough (tip: it's not
That's a relatively massive deal. In "lucky" markets, those lines will be purchased by companies like Frontier, who have little to no serious interest or incentive to upgrade those users
. Elsewhere however, plenty of happy DSL users will eventually face total disconnection, leaving them with just two choices (if they're lucky): a cable operator who suddenly faces even less competition than ever before, or far-more expensive, capped wireless service.
While one side of the IP transition honestly involves the necessary and inevitable migration away from the PSTN and copper and toward IP-based technologies, AT&T and Verizon have used the transition as cover for a massive effort to strip consumer protections on millions of DSL lines they refuse to upgrade. These efforts have been buried under layers of conflation, oodles of paid sockpuppet opinion pieces
, and promises that gutting regulations and letting AT&T walk away from DSL users will somehow magically result in better connectivity for everyone
The FCC's going to need to show an immensely uncharacteristic level of competence and backbone if consumer trauma is going to be minimized as we start formally bidding farewell to copper.