Blog Post

AT&T to FCC: Let My Landlines Go!

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. At&t will never relinquish all of their copper facilities. As a digital tech with At&t I see how many t1 lines are feeding through this outdated network to all of their precious cell sites. The company will never just quit using these facilities. The only reason they want to get rid of pots is so they can lay off service techs who work on it. There will be no network upgrade they just want to replace all the service techs with premise techs who make less and work on the VOIP technology. Corporate greed at its finest. Too bad the company will still need us digital techs to install and maintain their t1 services to cell sites because im sure they want to get rid of us also.

  2. William Hassig

    Leave my landline alone! I’ve had that number since 1973 and I want it until I die (I’m 64). I’m retired from what is now AT&T and I dont see where the big cost is in running the switched pots network. All the equipment and cables and transmission facilities are in place and have earned their keep many times over during the past decades. The switched pots system is simple compared to the rest of the communications network.

  3. I actually keep a POTS line in case of emergency. I work in the business telecom world and also in emergency communications. I see what really works and what doesn’t on a daily basis. I love my cell phone and VoIP but when then sh*t hits the fan I want a POTS line.
    The only issue with POTS now days is with so many RT’s (remote terminals) pushing DSL closer to subscribers, if a city wide power outage hit your town it’s likely your POTS service would eventually quit. Unlike the old days when everything ran out of the CO which was backed up my generator…..
    Oh well…..

  4. kimijye

    It’s worthwhile noting that low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities receive protection of their essential utility services, including POTS (plain old telephone service), under fcc regulations – see But VOIP falls under the bailiwick of broadband internet connectivity, which is unregulated by the government, so those protections would not be in place for these vulnerable individuals and families should they lose their POTS.

  5. What a load. So that explains why AT&T will not increase its DSL coverage areas. They no longer want to serve anyone but people in cities..

    If AT&T would provide DSL to all of its wireline customers that might work.

    If AT&T does not want to serve wireline why did they buy the wireline part of bellsouth? They should be made to sell it to someone that wants to provide wireline phones and DSL to all the customers.

    Such a plan to phase out wireline will not work but wireless does can not replace wireline unless wireless rules were changed to require carriers to accept extentions so you can have several phones on 1 line at no extra cost and so that local dialup modems in satellite receivers and tivos and fire alarms could also work on those lines. You would also have to have a requirement that the cell service serve ALL areas which it does not now do.
    Many rual areas are not served by cell service.

    As far as AT&T broadband wireless AT&T rules do not allow you to use this on a home computer 24hrs a day it is only for a laptop. Thos rules would also have to change allowing you to use it on a home computer with no monthly bandwidth caps just like DSL.

  6. I think you have your statistics backwards. It’s not that only one fifth of Americans rely on land lines. Rather only one fifth of households have given up their land lines. That leaves 80% who still rely on them.

  7. at&t landline employee

    There are indeed some smart folks in the audience with some very insightful opinions for and against the at&t push to ditch their landline obligations as a public utility and steward of the United States communications infrustructure. It’s refreshing to see angry and vigilant Americans thinking, and mobilizing against corporate greed and Wall Street narcissism. It’s equally sad, as a telecom craftsman, to see the decay of my trade.
    Fact : at&t made 129 billion dollars last year(2008-2009) during the worst economic depression since 1936. This was the highest earning year in the history of at&t. ( Does this sound like a company in economic peril ?)
    At&t is no longer a friendly telephone provider that you can rely on like the power company, water company, or gas man. At&t is steadily becoming a multi-trillion dollar cash cow, gin mill, revenue-driven, retail money machine. Retail(revenue) is the key word here…the dozen or so folks running this massive mastodon money machine know nothing, or give a shit about, John Doe American in Fartlick, Arkansas, who lives 6 miles outside of city limits and needs telecom service. The Ivy-League frat kids who run the nations telecom infrustructure nowadays are bottom-line, revenue driven. Do you actually think they give a shit about a single POTS line customer ? They (our corporate hacks) are a new generation of buyers and sellers…They don’t give a fuck if they are selling tennis raquets, chewing gum, car parts, stereo equipment, or broadband… ” We need to increase profits “…” We made 129 billion last year… We need to make 150 billion next year ! “… It seems that the landline platform is a thorn in the side of revenue growth and ass-over-teapot ridiculous annual earnings we’ve enjoyed here at at&t. The vibe I get is that at&t customers are a nuisance, and if we could fire our customers and still make a profit, we sure as hell would! The rhetoric is right in front of your faces, but laid out in a glib and silver-tongued fashion…
    For you fancy, savvy digital folks out there, there are a wide range of digital and analog solutions available, from many different vendors, and with many different broadband packages. And for the folks who only want a simple POTS line and nothing else, God bless you!
    The fact of the matter is this : If at&t is allowed to ditch their infrastructure obligations and grandstand cutting-edge broadband-super-fancy superiority, wave of the future, wireless fanciness( with no guarantee of service or quality, especially to folks in areas that don’t matter), what will become of US telecom? I’ll be out of a job for damn sure, as well as 250-500,000 fellow craftsman, and I’m sure this will pave the way for Verizon and others, if they get a mad-money tick in their ass as well.
    I’m confident that the folks at the FCC have the maturity and wisdom to see this financially motivated, revenue driven, self-serving ruse for what it is…corporate greed, lack of civil responsibility and pure negligence at it’s finest…If these Texas toads that run this company wanted to be socially irresponsible with reckless abandon, and unchecked, they should have gotten jobs with R.J Reynolds or the California State Senate. It’s not enough that the leptons that run this cash machine could care less about the average American demographic,…it’s personally offensive to me that they don’t know what this business is about, what we do, and why we do it…they sit up in ivory towers and push doomsday buttons that lay regions to waste and destroy livelihoods and the concept of pride in America… When was the last time you had a gas station attendant in a paper hat come up to your window and ask to check your oil ? Technology and greed are replacing American jobs and funneling more money upwards to the wealthy few…then the majority can collect unemployment ! Please use your voice to tell the FCC that the notion of at&t dumping copper is retarded and fucking absurd. Most of the network now has simbiance with copper anyways…they only want deregulation so they don’t have to be bullied by customers anymore…they want the upper hand over the customer…” Don’t give it to them!” this stupid foolishness could cause a serious catclysm in the economy far beyond the fall of real estate jobs and car builders…

  8. I work for AT&T and it sure it’s the company it use to be. The new CEO cares about nothing but the bottom line and lining his pockets.
    If the FCC allows this to happen, it will put thousand of employee’s out of work. The very employee’s that has made AT&T what it is today. If you think that AT&T is doing this to better the nations network you are sadly mistaken.

    This an attempt to get out of PUC fines for missing the 24 hour comments. If this gets passed I can assure you AT&T will lay off thousands of their outside repair/installation techs and you the consumer’s of this new ip network will be waiting 4 to 5 day’s, maybe longer to get your service restored.

    Don’t get fooled by the smoke and mirrors this is Corp. Greed at its finest. AT&T will sale off the rural non-profitable wire centers. But they will maintain ownership of the central office equipment and become a CLEC in those area’s. I might add one thing to this…most of the rural
    wire centers are the very wire center’s that are PUC rated

    I am a repairman in one of those rural wire centers that could be effected, and I will no longer have a job. Some thanks for the 8 years of
    service I have given this company. Being a repairman I get to hear the real reasons why AT&T has lost so many landlines. I can tell you it because of the very copper this new ip network will run on hasn’t been maintain in years and years.

    I have unhappy customers tell me all the time your service is so bad that I turned my landline and just use my cell phone. AT&T has just started rehabing their plant, and thats only because of the new flagship product called Uverse.

    If you guys want to get sucked in to this BS be my guess, I know the truth and I can see the writing on the wall. Wake up people your getting took for a ride on this one.

  9. at&t and verizon are under fcc control for telephone lines , so who controls cox & other cable company’s for telephone lines ? with in the last year fcc has not did as said they 20yrs or more to bring cable company’s under to same control as at&t and verizon. what gives???

  10. Unbelievable… I live in Kentucky where there are entire towns that AT&T and the other telcos don’t feel worth offering wireless coverage to. And good luck getting DSL or cable out in the country. I am lucky enough to be able to get DSL, but it is highly unreliable and any time there is a storm or a rain drop falls out of the sky within a 5 mile radius my internet goes down. And I am still luckier than the thousands out here who are still stuck with 24bps dial-up in a time when virtually every webmaster arrogantly assumes their all of their users are on broadband and loads down their pages with bloat accordingly. So you’re just going to cut us off? I hope the FCC has the good sense to tell them where they can stick their request, but with this government who knows? They gave them immunity to spy on us, so why not let them spit on us or drop us like yesterdays news while they are at it?

    • the fcc could tell them to stick it if they werent gettin paid for every traditional telephone customer in the u.s.
      that is why they wont force at&t to go voip, it’s not regulated(no gov. kickback)

  11. Dial Tone

    I am the GM of a very, very small Telco in Central IA (under 1000 lines). We have currently made the investment in xDSL technology in the forms of both ADSL2+ Bonded (up to 48Mbps on 2 pairs) and VDSL2 (up to 100Mbps on 1 pair) both depending on the actual copper cable length from the CO/Fiber fed cabinet. I today, can get this broadband to 100% of my customers. This is not really any different than any other small Independent Telco in IA or any other state for that matter. I would love to go fiber to the home, but that investment does not pay for us, and yes, we care about our customer and do our best to keep the rates low. Basic “landline” service from us is under $20 a month and yes, that DOES INCLUDE the related taxes too. The frustrating part is that not all of my customers want or care to have Broadband or even any Internet access. I am sure that will change over time, but the “powers to be” are forcing it to happen faster than it needs too (for us anyway). I do hear of people in IA that can not get broadband, but they are always fed from the “big guys”, not the independents. The “Big Guys” in Iowa feed close to 80% of the state and I guess the 20% number might be close for them relating to “relying on a landline”. For us, it is more like 75%, and that’s by the choice of my customer. I would love to have each customer have broadband, but they don’t have a device in the home that needs it… Related to other post on “power outages”, yes the xDSL signal is still going to the home, but you will need battery back-up for the DSL modem/router in order to have dial-tone for those emergancey calls. Even fiber to the home has a short coming there. When the batteries on the side of the house die, so does the dial-tone…

  12. In the boonies

    So what happens to those of us that can’t get anything besides a pots line? We live where is no cable, no dsl, and horrible cell service. So we get screwed right?

  13. out looker

    ATT wants to raise the monthly bill for sure! I was offered by them several times. The bill is unbelievable big. They just push you for the fancy features that you don’t need. If these guys are hornest, they don’t need to file some rule change request. They can just replace the hardware with same service scope with the same rate. Who care how they do it.

  14. My cell phone doesn’t work at my house. (We’re in a valley.) That’s one of the reasons I keep my landline. I can also get cheap, convenient international calling from my landline.

  15. Valerie

    I still use pots at home to handle my personal business. I can’t afford to pay for the minutes on my cell when i sit in queue for 30 minutes whenever I call just about any company.