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Summary:

The FCC Chairman has signaled that he intends to take on the transition from copper networks to all-IP networks starting next year. As the agency preps for this transitions here’s what you should know.

The Federal Communications Commission Chairman today said that the Commission will open a proceeding in January to lay out how the nation will graduate from the old copper telephone networks to the digital and IP-based networks. This is a process that began with broadband networks and has gathered steam as Americans abandoned copper landlines and embraced voice-over-IP services.

Five years ago I laid out AT&T’s arguments in favor of killing its obligations to the copper telephone network, an argument that grows stronger with time. Verizon’s efforts to replace the damaged copper network from Hurricane Sandy with wireless are another example of a carrier trying to move from the copper age into the digital age. The outcry that followed Verizon’s move is why the FCC has to act.

The carriers don’t want to have to operate old-school networks that are more expensive to maintain and don’t offer the flexibility that a modern IP network can provide. However, as the FCC settles in to discuss this transition, its worth understanding what it means. From Wheeler’s blog post:

This is what I have called the Fourth Network Revolution, and it is a good thing. History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas, and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society – think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.

Wheeler can call it the Fourth Network Revolution or whatever he wants. The transition is already happening, it’s the FCC’s job to figure out how to do this without causing a loss of access and problems for millions of Americans who still rely on the copper network. It also means we need to ensure that cellular and VoIP 9-1-1 actually gets help to people when they need it and that VoIP services are reliable in a crisis. It also means that customers have access to a voice network even if they are in rural America and that access shouldn’t come with expensive strings attached.

Wheeler calls this the network compact, but the fight over the next few months will be about what that compact means — the nitty gritty details. And frankly, there will be problems with this transition. Even the transition to digital television that netted America the 700 MHz spectrum that once delivered over the air television and now is part of Verizon and AT&T’s 4G networks, caused problems. For example, I can no longer get basic TV service — a problem for millions of other Americans.

And the copper network is still very much used. From a story a year ago:

And if you think that the world has already gone VoIP, you’re wrong. The FCC counted 192 million circuit-switched lines in 2001. By mid-2011,there were still 112 million lines. Because of the prevalence of the original network, most calls made still touch the original copper network at some point. Even your cell phone calls.

This is a logical transition, and I cannot fault the carriers for wanting to get out of their cumbersome and expensive old-school networks. But the fight ahead of Wheeler and U.S. consumers is about ensuring that this transition to an all-IP infrastructure hurts the fewest people or at least only the people who are best able to absorb the cost of the shift. So as the FCC sets itself up to review the data and unveil its plan, the core of this issue is figuring out how we get from the analog era to the digital one without leaving a lot of folks behind.

But most people will just say it’s about copper landlines.

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  1. There’s a deep, dark secret — there aren’t supposed to be ‘copper’ landlines anymore — in almost every state, laws were changed to exchange the ‘old copper wires’ for new fiber optic ones — there was never 2 networks, it was always 1 network– the PSTN— and this ‘transition’ has little to do with technology but shutting down whole areas of the US that were never properly upgraded.

    In New Jersey– as of 2013, 100% of the state should already be fiber optics to the home and office, school and library–capable of 45 Mbps in both directions — it LAW.

    Customers paid about 15 billion for these upgrades — which never happened.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/100-of-verizon-new-jersey_b_4270035.html

    And instead of a ‘transition’ –it’s time for investigations into the fact that the FCC has never investigated any of the state documents and ‘commitments’ or that customers have become facto investors over the last 20 years — in any broadband proceeding, much less that IP transition.

    1. > it’s time for investigations

      that will merely inflict additional COSTS on taxpayers… and if collected is likely to also be deceitfully spent [on something else]

      the only fix is a well informed electorate AND men of integrity holding public office — as detailed in the discussions of the Federalist Papers

  2. sorry but this is not a good idea. In a winter storm, your internet may go out but the copper based phone lines do not. Yes, your VOIP connection may have batteries that last 8 hours but..what happens after 8 hours? I know of times electricity has not been restored in that time. When I moved 5 miles down the road I was told that I could no longer have DSL over the phone wires because the previous owner had installed FIOS, This meant an increase from $30 to $80 although I did not want FIOS. They said that once it was put in they yank out the old copper and install the fiber optic. You have no choice. Whe I complained I was told that the company had spent millions of this –as though it justified my lack of choice.
    Then…the things beeps and they say I needed new batteries–after having been in the house only a few months when they supposedly installed new ones…there is so much more but I better stop! LOL

    1. so many falsehooods

  3. sorry but this is not a good idea. In a winter storm, your internet may go out but the copper based phone lines do not. Yes, your VOIP connection may have batteries that last 8 hours but..what happens after 8 hours? I know of times electricity has not been restored in that time. When I moved 5 miles down the road I was told that I could no longer have DSL over the phone wires because the previous owner had installed FIOS, This meant an increase from $30 to $80 although I did not want FIOS. They said that once it was put in they yank out the old copper and install the fiber optic. You have no choice. When I complained I was told that the company had spent millions on this –as though it justified my lack of choice.
    Then…the thing beeps and they say I needed new batteries–after having been in the house only a few months when they supposedly installed new ones…there is so much more but I better stop! I have used VOIP and it preforms poorly compared to copper lines

    1. > your internet may go out

      nope, I provide the gizmos sine-wave UPS

      > copper based phone lines do not

      because they receive both line current, and dry air positive pressure enclosures

      it’s not magic

      > what happens after

      what happens after the grid around the telco goes down AND their generators run out of fuel?

      > I could no longer have DSL
      > because the previous owner had installed FIOS

      Why would you prefer DSL to FIOS? There are some great flavors of DSL, but the telco NEVER offers those.

      > yank out the old copper

      verizon is lazy and cheap. They default to using the existing Coax (for their moca) even if it’s merely RG5. Some areas will upgrade (replace) to RG6. It requires a great deal of politicing even to have dry loop (internet only fios) installed as ethernet from the ONT

      > You have no choice

      false

      > voip performs poorly

      That’s by verizon design. Their routers are SIP-hostile; many do not allow you to disable their broken SIP-ALG. Replace ISP cr4p with pfSense or pro gear.

      When PROPERLY configured voip outperforms copper

  4. All the Chairman is calling for is more trials (he calls “experiments”) so put away the pitchforks and torches. Nobody is taking away your precious PSTN. But the old copper-based POTS service will eventually be eliminated — it’s inevitable.

    1. pitchforks for ITSP who cannot be bothered to preserve OCN

      flog youmail for losing it through willful sloth

      maybe those who’ll “get to” fund experiments aren’t interested in experimenting with their respective capital?

      California inflicted one such experiment from the cult of manmadeglobalwarming: businesses cannot provide convenient plastic bags, and charges $0.10 for every container than isn’t plastic

      PSTN’s “S” is due for “P” upgrade. No one wants “P” in POTS given the power of IP-PBX feature set.

      Let the market drive innovation and not the whip or velvetted iron fist

  5. You make “copper” sound like the bad guy. Don’t forget that even an all IP-based network will rely heavily on copper wiring.

    1. you have nicely conflated “copper” and copper wiring

  6. That’s the point, Telecom Vet. Copper is a transmission medium. IP is a protocol. Since no one except some FiOS customer have FTTH, and cable isn’t that interested in telephony, most calls will still go over copper. That’s why this is such a slippery proposition.

  7. Stacey, thanks for even-handed identification of the key issues here. It is encouraging to see that Chairman Wheeler has come prepared and appears anxious to lead the FCC on key initiatives to advance technologies that will enhance consumer experiences (e.g. Wireless competition policies, IP Transition and 911) and drive economic growth. Far from being mutually exclusive, my company, Bandwidth, views these initiatives as mutually supportive and full of promise.

  8. It doesn’t matter what type of protocol you are using to make or receive a call TDM, VoIP or SIP. At some to many points you WILL be on copper. Copper will never go away everywhere. All of you IP traffic is usually connected to your copper at some point for LAN/WAN/MAN. Even wireless has wires!

  9. mmmmmm

    I hope we can all [be forced to] enjoy our respective WALLED GARDENS

    and pay premiums for speed, more costs for low latency, and additional fees for QoS

    that’ll be grrreat

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