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AT&T to FCC: Let My Landlines Go!

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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 (s 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

74 Responses to “AT&T to FCC: Let My Landlines Go!”

  1. Anonymous

    I use the POTS system for only one purpose, for emergency communications. For almost every voice phone call I make, I use my cell phone. We have the regular landline so that if the power goes out, we can still make calls. If the cellular carrier goes down (as happened with T-Mobile last month) or the system has too much congestion/traffic, we can still make calls. Also, when someone dials 911 from a landline, the emergency response know exactly the location from which we are calling without any issues. We would be 100% cellular if we didn’t want reliablity. Until all the issues already discussed can be worked out so nobody is left stranded, I say let AT&T stew in the pot they made for themselves these dozens of years as a monopoly.

  2. Karl Hamrick

    This is a great idea if it includes a 50% reduction in cell telephone billing rates. This will establish the cell phone and ip provides as a monopoly and a utility. Odd economic type of business that congress forgot about. In addition to establishing a monopoly these new businesses should have to stand the test of existing anti-trust laws. The kind of laws that have been applied to the oil industry but not the banking, communication, or computer industry.

  3. watts428

    For those of us on the coast, VOIP over cable is a no go. I’ve been through two hurricanes here, Rita and Ike. It took the cable company between 4 to 6 weeks to get all the cable back up. At home I never lost dial tone on copper. Leave my copper alone.

  4. Great idea at&t, because after all-nobody gets dropped calls with cell phones anymore!! What a bunch of crap, those idiots are just pissed because they cannot screw people over and over charge them like they used to. That of course will change if this happens and everyone is forced to buy a cell phone. Cell phone contracts tease you with rates such as all- you-can-use-everything for only 39.99 a month but when you get the stupid bill it is more like 69.99 or more. Every little fee and tax that they are allowed to tack on they do and in doing so they are screwing us over. So basically at&t wants me to have to double my phone bill so myself and my wife can have a phone for each of us. Great way for the phlegmwads to wring me for an extra 70 or 80 bucks. Rot in hell you pathetic scum.

  5. We need land line. I live in an area with frequent power outages. It’s good to know the land line phone is still working when broadband goes down. Also, we need land line to FAX from our computer. FAX does not go through DSL.

  6. Its all about money. I work for at&t installing land lines. at&t wants to eliminate people from the payroll. Saying that only 20% of the population is using a land line is a flat out lie. at&t has done EVERYTHING they can to move customers away from land lines, I.E. poor customer service, giving lines to cable companies, allowing the cable plant to literally collapse, hell, just try to order a land line and see how long it takes you on the phone. There is far more money in VoIP and Uverse……and far less quality. The American public will be the ones who suffer when they get a monopoly and your rates go thru the roof……a land line is less than 20 bucks…..check your prices on cell service….ever deal with the non regulated dish, direct TV, or cable companies prices? Just wait and see what happens if they de-regulate the only regulated phone company….AT&T…..

  7. Anonymous

    No one is talking about getting rid of the copper line, just the POTS service that rides on it.

    Frankly, it is a bit tiring to hear the AT&T bashers wanting AT&T to continue to be saddled with a business that is on the way out ( substantiated by the declining numbers) and uses 100 year old technology – while also comparing the legacy carriers to new entrants who dont have the same constraints of regulation.

    If most of the profitable business moves to, say wireless or VOIP, then a legacy carrier wont survive offering universal POTS service to a rural area with low population density, with or without the universal service fees.

    I think the suggestion to model a POTS transition after the analog television phaseout is a great idea.

    The salient point is that even if AT&T or other legacy carriers were to try to offer a technical solution – they must get permission from regulators the way the laws are written. The process of transition has to start with such a filing.

  8. CWA member

    As a AT&T worker this is not right for the public and the workers. The workers that work on the lines are being forced to do the work as fast as they can . AT&T does not care . In fact the workers have 30 mins to fix the service and in most cases it takes up 4 hrs . The worker is in trouble for not getting atleast 6 jobs aday . Most of the fiber is only going to new subdivision with 50 are more homes .They are not placing fiber to the customers that are on copper lines . Which most of copper lines where placed in 1940’s which are wore out from age and lighting or high power being introduced . An as the other worker said 24hr commite is gone so some of the cust go for weeks out service and this for cust that live in town or 20 miles out of town . AT&T is just after the money .

  9. John David Galt

    No product or service is really obsolete until EVERY ONE of its users has access to all of its benefits, at a price they can pay, from newer products or services. My guess is that a lot of Americans will still need landlines in 2100.

    Many of us live in older apartment houses, condos, mobile home parks and the like which aren’t equipped with fiber and aren’t willing to allow it in. Or there’s no local cable company and the landlord won’t allow satellite dishes. Etc.

    If AT&T no longer feel they can make a profit on landline phones, then let them spin off that business and try to compete with it using whatever new tech they feel they can deliver better. But don’t allow it to be shut down.

  10. Anonymous

    ATT is not doing this for the consumer.Its good old corporate greed pure and simple.They plan on saving money by reducing the workforce that maintains the copper infrastructure. Rural america will suffer and att will be the unregulated beast it once was.its not about saving the consumer money period or offering wonderous new technology.Everything is still riding on copper backbone.

  11. Shane Davenport

    If AT&T wants to get rid of landlines, let them. However they should be required to service everyone with the new service. AT&T is currently crying that it can’t afford to bring broadband to rural areas of the country. I see this as a safety issue. There are parts of this country were cell phones don’t work well or at all. How can they say to people we are taking away your phone line you will have to suffer with nothing. How are these people supposed to get emergency help when they need it? Oh, I know, Smoke Signals or maybe a psychic that lives down the street?

  12. This sounds like a great deal. If ATT wants to hand over their copper physical plant to communities to use as a resource I would take them up on their offer immediately.

    The communities can then hire companies to “light” it up as DSL using 2010 electronics (100Mbps per pair or higher). This is divestiture II done right.

    And without being shackled by the 19th century telegraphy idea of charging services we’d be able to achieve Ambient Connectivity ( with or without wires!

  13. Anonymous

    Oh please, the land line network is installed – if it is so terrible a business you sell, you do not go crying to the regulator (trying to have other profitable models handy capped).

    I may retract the above statement, does AT&T own physical facilities or is better to lease? This then becomes a function of taxing – Gov. makes the rules, companies only react in their best interest.

  14. Telephone Employee

    Those of you who think that AT&T is requesting this change for the customers should think again. They are not doing this to better the countries technology either. It’s all about money! AT&T has already passed legislation in multiple states to deregulate its service. This means that customers who loose service no longer get a 24 hour commitment. This guarantee use to be monitored by the Public Service Commission. This new action enabled AT&T to lay off large quantities of it field technicians. Customers will now be waiting up to a week for those out of service issues. But…AT&T will make even more money! This is good for whose economy……not the peoples! So now by eliminating this copper POTS service, how many more people will loose their jobs so the companies top 10 can make millions more? What is next…..the power companies deciding if and who they want to provide power too? Maybe during summer months when power usage is high the power companies will provide their service to the highest bids! Those customers who cant afford it, lights out? Utilities can not be run as just another business, they have a great responsibility and the government needs to help keep tabs. AT&T made more money during this bad economic time, then in any year in their history! Let’s not worry about them.

  15. I would love to drop my POTS line from AT&T, but I am required to maintain it in order to have DSL from Speakeasy. There’s no technical reason for this; I wish the arguments AT&T is making to the FCC could be relayed to the CPUC.

  16. What are your plans for this:
    1941.4. The lessor of a building intended for the residential
    occupation of human beings shall be responsible for installing at
    least one usable telephone jack and for placing and maintaining the
    inside telephone wiring in good working order, shall ensure that the
    inside telephone wiring meets the applicable standards of the most
    recent National Electrical Code as adopted by the Electronic Industry
    Association, and shall make any required repairs. The lessor shall
    not restrict or interfere with access by the telephone utility to its
    telephone network facilities up to the demarcation point separating
    the inside wiring.
    “Inside telephone wiring” for purposes of this section, means that
    portion of the telephone wire that connects the telephone equipment
    at the customer’s premises to the telephone network at a demarcation
    point determined by the telephone corporation in accordance with
    orders of the Public Utilities Commission.

    ALSO about Helath and safety codes re: the ADA? Applicable?

  17. Lets see – we have been subsidizing fiber to the home for how long now? What (miniscule) percent of us actually have this beast?

    I shed no tears for any phone company, CLEC or whatever, and AT&T deserves a great deal of grief for the screwing she has given the public, so I have no problem with letting her go down with her landline business. On the other hand, Ma Bell still has one of the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington, so she generally gets what she wants out of the FCC.

    The fact that AT&T is stuck with “unprofitable” landlines is because that is where the company wanted to be back when they had a monopoly and could stick it to the consumer. Now that they lost the monopoly, they don’t want the regulatory baggage that they so urgently demanded back when it did them some good.

    I think that we as consumers are probably in for another screwing, but I hope that enouhg of us can put up enough fight to at least take the profit margin out of it.

    • att has already chased the cash cow of long distance and gone bankrupt once, let them do it again with cellular. i unwillingly work for them now, untill they sell of all of us landliners. when a company is stupid enough to give away 30% of its landline customers to government puppet clecs and think its a good idea, its time for it to die. i just hate to see all the people that have depended on that living to lose their jobs so we can all feel good about having a fiber optic line running on antiquated technology like uverse.

  18. All things must pass. But only so long as no one is passed over. In theory, it’s about time we dump POTS and move everyone to an all-IP network. But, if this serves only to allow AT&T to finagle its way out of providing universal service, then it is a bad thing. If, however, by eliminating POTS it paves the way to improve our communications infrastructure to support the digital future for everyone, then it is a necessary and very good thing. The key, as pointed out above, is to establish appropriate regulatory policies to make the all IP network an affordable reality while ensuring everyone makes the leap into the bright new digital future.

  19. @Stacey,

    I think AT&T wanting to move forward is good for the economy, and can be good for consumers if and only if all of the issues previous readers have made are addressed. However i’ll note that the issues you and other readers have pointed out were predictable when fiber emerged and the US carriers elected to selectively use fiber in an effort to maximize profits. Granted, it is their right to maximize their profits, and they do have shareholder responsibilities, however they’ve all made insane profits over the last decade while not addressing the aging copper infrastructure, rural telecommunication requirements, and the emerging IP based telecommunications requirements. End result, we now seeing strong growth in IP voice and data (wired and wireless) and yet the aged and partially upgraded networks can’t handle the growing usage without problems due to congestion.

    Bottom line, AT&T (as well as the other carriers) should be allowed to drop their land lines and required to deploy all current technologies to address network congestion, rural telecommunications, emergency telecommunications, and IP based telephony. The network build outs should also be required to address the next 10 to 15 years, which means simply that AT&T (and the other carriers) take their financial lumps in the short term in order to gain more and sustainable profits over the long term.

    My $.02.

    Happy Holidays!

    • Curtis, you’re hitting the core issue, which is the selective deployment of an all-IP network, while stranding those on the old network. This can be read as both PSTN v. all-IP and even copper v. fiber. I’m hoping that the FCC really focuses on that in the national broadband plan, as the for-profit providers can’t deploy fiber-based all-IP service profitably in some areas. But of course, we first need to know what people have. Sigh….

      • Anonymous

        Sure. We’re talking about the same companies that were paid billions of dollars of taxpayer money to build a modern broadband infrastructure and all the taxpayers got in return was a lot of excuses. The United States is still very much in the dark ages of broadband. In many other countries, 20MB, 30MB, 50MB, even 100MB broadband is common. In the US, the average speed is 5MB. So you want the tax payers to agree to let the phone companies build an all IP telephony network but leave the difficult problems to the FCC to solve? Um, what planet do you live on and what color is the sky?

  20. It is important to remember that landlines still serve an important role. I live in rural Iowa and when the power goes out because of storms and/or ice cellphones do not work. The only way is with landlines. As long as I live in the country I will have and need landlines.

      • If you have a laptop and keep it charged then in case of an emergency, which doesn’t happen very often, you can still use VOIP. Dry loops/DSL lines run over copper just as well as POTS lines do. DSL is powered by the CO which is backed up by UPS(Uninterrupted Power Supplies). Landlines are powered by the same supplies in the Central Offices and I can assure you it’s a very reliable source. The only thing you are not getting with DSL/VOIP is the constant idle -48dc volts at your jack. Landlines are good if you are going to apply for credit and you have att service. Serves as a good reference unlike cell phones which many people default on.

      • RichardAWoods

        Agreed! I live also in rural Iowa and have been for years and years trying to get rid of LAN Lines and move to some form of high speed internet/VOIP for telephones. It can not be done. The lines are Quest owned but Quest has to sell them to Iowa TeleCom and thus Iowa TeleCom provides us service but Quest does not want upgrade the lines because Iowa TeleCom has the actual business. Why would Quest upgarde lines they make no money from because they are force by the goverment to lease them to a smaller company?

  21. 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.

    • Phone Patrol

      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.


    • Anonymous

      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

  23. Dennis Heim

    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.

    • acommenter

      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.

  24. Jack Williams

    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.

  25. It’s a tough predicament.

    CLECs (AT&T, Verizon, 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
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  26. 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.