Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wireless and VoIP Services as Carrier of Last Resort?

The shift continues for the traditional telecommunications companies away from copper based voice and DSL data services to wireless and fiber. One of the road blocks that appears to be loosening are the  Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) rules for carriers.

COLR rules are currently set at the state level (not the Federal Communications Commission) and regulate that every American has access to telephones service along with other utilities like electricity and water. A number of states have either passed legislation or are considering legislation that would end traditional landline rules and allow these services to be replaced by wireless (cell) or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Bills have emerged in Mississippi, Kentucky, New Jersey and California. Ohio's Senate Bill 271 is a good example of legislation currently being reviewed by lawmakers to cut traditional landline services. 

Opponents to these changes argue landline elimination could increase phone bills, reduce quality of service and impact 911 service. AARP Ohio State Director Bill Sundenmeyer is quoted in a recent post at Community Broadband Networks saying:
... besides preserving social contact, land-line phones are needed to protect seniors' health and safety. For instance, some seniors use the phone line to transmit routine health information from equipment in their home to their doctor's office.They can make an evaluation of a person's heart and how's it working, of their lungs, etc. That information would be very difficult to transmit over a cell phone.
There's more. Even though the FCC has stayed out of COLR regulations, leaving them to individual states, AT&T submitted a letter to the FCC back in August asking the FCC to effectively reclassify the public switched telephone network as an "information service", effectively removing all PSTN regulations and obligations. What does this mean? I think Bruce Kushnick describes it pretty well over at the Huff Post Tech Blog:
This means that almost all of the remaining wires, networks or even the obligation to offer services over those wires and networks are all removed -- as much of this infrastructure is classified as "telecommunications". The Public Switched Telephone Networks, the utility, would suddenly be reclassified as an information service. Sayonara any telco rules, regulations and oh yes, your rights. Your service breaks... tough. Prices go up and there's no direct competition -- too bad. Networks weren't upgraded -- so what. Net Neutrality? Neutered.
I'm not sure where you live but I'm in a relatively rural area of a fairly populated state. I've only got one wireless provider option at my home unless I climb up to the very peak of my roof where I can usually catch one bar of another provider. After the 2011 Halloween snowstorm cell service was out for almost a week at my home while landline service did not go down. 

Wireless service is great when it works. Wireless as carrier of last resort - someday yes but not just yet. AT&T has opened a window and the FCC now has an opportunity to step up and put a logical transitional process in place. 

4 comments:

dennis said...

Last century, while telephone and electric companies were connecting us to their grids/networks, rural areas were last. There was concern that left to their respective business models, these companies would never get to sparsely populated areas. The REA (Rural Electrification Act) passed by Congress changed the landscape by providing incentives to serve rural areas. We clearly need something similar today, that recognizes the differences among customers and the variant motivations of providers. Such solutions usually have the many paying for the needs of the few. It's how we got here.

Gordon Snyder said...

Agree Dennis - technologically we're not ready for this yet. This is the kind of stuff the FCC was put together to sort out.

Peggy Mclaughlin said...

I think making this a nationwide rule is not feasible yet. Considering how the typical service distributor for both the hardware needed to support the program (like electronic components for the handhelds and the network hardware needed to facilitate comms) and the service providers themselves are still in the process of fully developing technologies needed for it.

amanda said...

The states those who are considering legislation that would move to VoIP services to cut conventional telephony is somehow worth economical. VoIP services cut the cost to that extent that you can easily afford to make local, international or long distance calls at really genuine reasons.