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Summary:

The copper landline is dying, and AT&T has suggested some regulatory changes to speed the death along. What it doesn’t address is what an all-IP future means for the almost 20 percent who rely exclusively on a landline or the 33 percent without broadband.

The Federal Communications Commission is delving into the future of communications with a request for comments on an all-IP telephone network. Last week, AT&T filed its comments, which shows someone at the carrier is reading GigaOM, or at least the writing on the wall when it comes to landlines. In a 32-page filing, Ma Bell asked the FCC to eliminate regulatory requirements that it support a landline network and to provide a deadline for phasing it out.

The (almost) one in five Americans relying exclusively on a plain old telephone line should prepare to kiss that wall jack goodbye as the major wireline telephone providers back away from that dying (and expensive business). However, AT&T in its filing doesn’t offer a way to bridge the gap for that 20 percent of Americans relying only on landlines, nor does it address what an all-IP future means for the 33 percent of Americans who have access to broadband but do not subscribe (although those broadband laggards might be paying for a digital voice product from a cable provider).

To defend the rush to VoIP, AT&T offered data that shows how the increase in voice options, from cellular phones to cable VoIP, and the rise in costs associated with running a switched access network are hurting its business while providing little benefit to the consumer. We pointed this out in an April story, later picked up in the NY Times, although the Times got the credit in the AT&T filing. But AT&T offers some other scary stats:

  • Between 2000 and 2008, total interstate and intrastate switched access minutes have fallen 42 percent.
  • For the incumbent local exchange carriers, revenue from wireline telephone service fell to $130.8 billion in 2007 from $178.6 billion in 2000 — a 27 percent decrease.
  • At least 18 million households currently use a VoIP service, and it’s estimated that by 2010, cable companies alone will be providing VoIP to more than 24 million customers; by 2011, there may be up to 45 million total VoIP subscribers.
  • Today, less than 20 percent of Americans rely exclusively on switched-access lines for voice service.

In addition to a firm deadline for dumping the old network, AT&T calls for the FCC to seek input on additional regulatory changes to enable a transition away from copper phone lines. Those include putting broadband regulatory jurisdiction at the federal rather than local or state level, reforming inter-carrier compensation, changing the aims and structure of the Universal Service Fund, and eliminating state regulations that dictate that a carrier serve all people in a geographic area. It also told the FCC that it needs to figure out how to handle public safety and folks with disabilities in this VoIP world.

The filing shows that it’s easy to declare VoIP as the future of telecommunications, hard to figure out regulatory policies that will make that a reality, and even more difficult to make sure everyone can make that leap.

Thumbnail image from Old Telephones via Flickr Photo of AT&T building by Mr. Bill via Flickr

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  1. Another move at killing the CLEC.

  2. for many who rely on a landline only i really do not think VOIP is suitable for them. at least not in the current form of a phone plugged into an ATA plugged into a router all using AC power jacks. it is just too complicate hardware wise with too many points of potential failure.

    why does AT&T not sell VOIP that has the ATA box outside on the curb in the junction box and to the users is no different at all from a land line? all the phone jacks in the house just work. but there is an IP packet based connection after the junction box.

  3. But many people’s broadband connections travel over copper landline. Typing this from DSL right now.

    Anyway, we need fiber line-sharing.

  4. It’s a tough predicament.

    CLECs (AT&T, Verizon, et.al.) have a bunch of rules they have to follow that were made at a time when they held a different position. I have to agree that continuing to hold them to a standard that took into account a position they no longer hold really isn’t fair.

    OTOH: there are a significant # of people who still use CLECs in the same way they used them once upon a time, and dinosaur references notwithstanding it really isn’t fair to just cut them off.

    On the OTHER other hand: the elimination of analog TV broadcasts was a similar issue when viewed from that last perspective, and the solution was simple: offer a converter box, and even subsidize it.

    So maybe the solution is to provide a DSL converer free to anyone who asks for it, thereby dragging them into the digital age without really making them change anything. It would be a simple matter to augment that device with a very cheap router with telephone IP capabilities built in.

    Problem solved!

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
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  5. What I think will be a big wake up call is when the data comes out that high use of cell phones can cause cancer. I have been in the RF (radio frequency) industry for years, and I can tell you that locally, researchers have been looking into the effects of RF exposure for almost 20 years. In speaking personally with one of the researchers, he told me that data exists all the way back to WWII, where early radar operators had higher than normal cancer rates. Problems were even seen with police officers who operate RF-based radar devices. The officers, because of their ignorance of the threat, overexposed themselves to the radio signals. One finding was officers who left the “speed trap gun” on and set it in their lap for periods of time, ended up developing testicular cancer.

    So far, this researcher has found that RF exposure can cause cancer. A large part of this seems to be whether you are prone to developing cancer from such an exposure, and then the level of exposure needed to cause cancer to occur in you. So it’s a bit like Russian Roulette. Whether it can cause you (with your personal DNA) a health problem is unknown.

    The lower power of cell phones is not a “saving factor”, as some people keep their phone glued to their head for hours a day, and the transmitter runs continuously while on call. It’s not like an old “walkie talkie” where the transmitter only operates when you talk (thus reducing the exposure level).

    From a personal standpoint, I have enough training and understanding of RF to know not to use my cell phone for extended periods. I’m scared enough of the risks. It’s a shame that the general public, since they don’t feel anything happening to their body, figure nothing negative could be occurring. But some of them will end up like a realtor friend of mine, who died of brain cancer from a tumor which grew right in the area where she held her cell phone for hours a day.

  6. AT&T Begs FCC to Phase Out Landlines Completely [At&t] « Gadgets Club Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    [...] a 32-page filing with the FCC last week, AT&T asked that the requirement that it support a landline network be repealed. It’s an aggressive bid [...]

  7. So AT&T wants to dump the POTS network, which I have no problem. But at the same time, want to remove the requirement to provide all users service. You can’t have you cake and eat it too. I like out in rural indiana… about 6 miles from the city. We can’t get anything other than a T1 for internet. So, AT&T wants to get out of providing any service to us.. that’s great.

    1. They probably wouldn’t get rid of t1’s just POTS service. Face it, pound for pound VoIP is cheaper, cable realizes this. People don’t care about reliability when they are only paying for all-you-can-eat for $18-30/month.

      Even cell phones are cheap as long as you live within your means. If you do prepaid and use it as a phone you can get a really basic talk and text phone for no more than $20/month (prepaid).

      It’s time to move on and move up! WHo here pays for a landline anymore? I can bet as least 95% of people here do not.

  8. WAKE UP FOLKS, CALL THE SERVICE(VOIP, DSL, POTS) POLISH SAUSAGE IF YOU MUST, HOWEVER, THE “OLD COPPER LINES” IS STILL WHAT MAKES UP THE NETWORK. WHEATHER THE SERVICE IS VOIP, POTS, DSL, ETC,ETC….IT WORKS ON COPPER TO YOUR HOME AND BUISINESS. THE ONLY THING CHANGING HERE IS THE EQUIPMENT ON BOTH ENDS. THE LEGACY SWITCH SLOWLY CHANGING TO A SERVER TYPE SWITCH TO HANDLE DATA AND THE CPE END BECOMING A GATEWAY, ROUTER, AND SWITCH TO HANDLE DATA. BY LETTING THE ATT AND VERIZON’S BAMBOOZLE THE LEGISLATURE AS TO WHAT THE NETWORK REALLY CONSISTS OF, WILL BE THE DEATH KNELL ON COMMUNICATIONS IN THIS COUNTRY. IF YOU DON’T HAVE UNIVERSAL SERVICE, THEY WILL JUST CHERRY PICK WHAT PARTS OF THE NETWORK TO KEEP WHAT THEY WISH TO KEEP…. LIKE VERIZON HAS ALREADY DONE IN SELLING OFF PARTS OF THE SO CALLED “RURAL ACCESS LINES” AND KEEPING THEIR DENSELY(CHEAPER TO PROVIDE SETVICE TO)POPULATED AREAS. WAKE UP AMERICA, A MODERN, REGULATED COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK IS VITAL TO MAINTAINING LEADERSHIP IN THE WORLD. THE NETWORK IS NOT EXPENDABLE AND ANYONE WITH ANY CONCEPT OF HOW THE NETWORK WORKS UNDERSTANDS THIS….UNFORTUNATELY, MOST LACK THE BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF EMERGING TECHNOLIGIES THAT HAVE BECOME THE FABRIC OF DAILY LIFE. THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS, WIRELESS, DSL, VOIP, T-1,ETC, ETC, all WORKS THROUGH COPPER OR FIBER. IT’S THE NETWORK, STUPID SOMEONE ONCE SAID.

    1. I work for At$t on the cooper lines when they bought us (the old Bellsouth) they told us that they did not want the landline service and all they wanted was the cell service and the company has not spent any money on the network for upgrades exspecally in the rural areas. now they are surplusing network employee as fast as they can to be on the fact side the number for 1q2010 is 1060 and over 80% are the people that come to your house and repair your phone and that number is just in the old Bellsouth states (9 state area Southeast) but the problem that i have is that the copper lines are the back bone of this country and everything works off of the lines for the most part and yes they are going to fiber but most still work off of copper (cell towers, t1, ds3,dsl, and at$t uverse)I just would like At$t to tell me how much longer I can expect to be employed! thanks AT$T

      1. I’m a Service Tech for at@suck sounds like a bunch of stupid fools running this company. Wireless is not dependable. The copper is already there why not use it

  9. What good is VOIP telephony when the internet system goes down? What use cellphones if there ain’t no power to the tower? My landline has worked during massive power outages and after earthquakes and I have doubts that VOIP would be working under those circumstances.

    1. yea but no one is concerned. THey only shop for price… not reliability. I see it every day of the week when someone tells me “I want dry line dsl service.”

    2. If your “POTS landline” switch failed in their network it would be the same as the internet going down.
      The way the ATT Uverse works now on the VoIP is that you have the IP gateway in your home, it splits the services you get (internet, VoIP, and TV)there is a backup battery you get with it. It is said to provide up to 4 hours of voice as long as you don’t try to use a laptop or other means of heavy data traffic on it during an outage. I have had outages of 2+ hours and still had phone service, but the battery upkeep is on the customer for replacement.

  10. AT&T Begs FCC to Phase Out Landlines Completely [At&t] | Products & Tech News Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    [...] a 32-page filing with the FCC last week, AT&T asked that the requirement that it support a landline network be repealed. It's an aggressive bid to get [...]

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