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FCC Plans Overhaul of Old Phone Network

FCC Plans Overhaul of Old Phone Network
November 20, 2013 2:11PM

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Analog technology and physical switches are still used in parts of the nation's phone network, supporting POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. But, with the use of mobile devices growing by leaps and bounds, users are rarely employing just phone service, and the outdated components limit the traffic-carrying capacity.

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Time to say goodbye, Alexander Graham Bell. The phone system that was built on principles going back to Bell is on the verge of being replaced by Internet technology, thanks to an effort spearheaded by the Federal Communications Commission.

In a post on the FCC's blog (yes, even the FCC has one), agency Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed on Tuesday to a variety of needed changes in the network, including the move from circuit-switch time-division multiplexing to Internet Protocol, or IP. Wheeler joined the FCC as chairman at the beginning of this month, replacing Julius Genachowski.

Wheeler said the agency would begin "a diverse set of experiments" in 2014 to move the U.S. telephone system from one that still employs circuits and copper wires to one that is based on Internet technology.

FCC Authority

In addition, the chairman said he expected the FCC to approve a plan at its January meeting that would look at the revision of the legal, policy and technical issues required for such a major overhaul. The plan will be presented at the December meeting by a task force that has been looking into the transformation.

There is some question as to what the FCC's authority over an IP-based system actually is, given that it has only limited authority over the Internet. But federal regulations have shaped what we know as the standard phone system, such as guaranteeing there is at least one phone company serving every part of the U.S. The consumer group Public Knowledge has called on the FCC to ensure that telephone service remains accessible to everyone.

Other policy and regulations will have to deal with such issues as how 911 calls are managed in an IP network, what the rules are for minimum service, and how "Net Neutrality" -- where network providers provide the same service to everyone -- is handled.

Plain Old Telephone Service

Wheeler has come under criticism for being too close to the telecommunications and broadcast industries, since they previously employed him as a lobbyist. In response, he has said that today, "the American people are my client."

Wheeler described this transformation of the phone system as the Fourth Network Revolution, and compared it to the "creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph."

Analog technology and physical switches are still used in parts of the network, supporting POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. But, with the use of mobile devices growing by leaps and bounds, users are rarely employing just phone service, and the outdated components limit the traffic-carrying capacity.

Completion of the IP conversion is intended to enable more information to be transmitted, which could help support the additional traffic load imposed by the growing use of video. IP-based phone service is already being used by millions of customers of Verizon FiOS, AT&T's U-Verse, and services provided by Skype and Vonage.

Last year, AT&T formally requested permission from the FCC to start the transition to IP-based service, beginning with tests.

Tell Us What You Think



Posted: 2013-12-22 @ 8:27am PT
I think its quite stupid...… They just want to be able to monitor things easier!!!

Landlines are much better!!

Martin B. Brilliant:

Posted: 2013-11-23 @ 5:50am PT
Gregg DesElms wants us to stick to outmoded protocols for transmission of digital data over channels that were originally designed for voice communication. It's time to abandon that technology and adopt digital protocols so digital services like fax and credit card validation can be operated faster, cheaper and more reliably in full digital mode.

During the transition to a fully digital voice network it will be necessary to continue to support analog transmission of digital data. That means we're not talking about VoIP as it's currently provided by low-cost and no-cost carriers. We're talking about digital transmission that supports the voice quality standards of the current telephone network.

He also points out that copper loops carrying analog voice provide service even during power outages. Loop technology between the customer and the nearest telephone building has nothing to do with network technology between telephone buildings. Copper loops are reliable because they carry electric power from batteries in the telephone building, so they don't depend on the electric power grid. I agree that it's unacceptable to provide telephone service that fails when the power grid fails. Telephone service providers should be required to supply power to the telephone equipment not only on the loop but also at the customer premises, as they used to.

In truth, these are three different issues. One is that digital services like voice and credit card validation should be digital from end to end without using the voice network. The second is that the coming packet-switched voice network should support voice quality equal to the best the telephone network currently provides. The third is that telephone service providers should accept responsibility for providing basic voice service even when the electric power grid fails.

Gregg L. DesElms:

Posted: 2013-11-21 @ 3:20pm PT
Analog telephony -- POTS, as it's called -- still has value and purpose. No fax machine, for example, can run properly, and at full speed, over VoIP; and many dial-up credit card swipe terminals need real POTS and not VoIP; those are just two examples, there are a gabazillion more. Also, VoIP requries 120VAC electricity for Interent routers/switches and either cable or DSL modems. An old-fashioned POTS line will work using an old-fashioned wall or desk phone (one that doesn't require any electricity; and yes, sadly, I realize there are people alive and nearly adult, today, who've never even seen one) even if the 120VAC electricity is out...

...which could save the life of a person who, for example, needs to call an ambulance during a power outage, and who doesn't have a cell phone (or said cell phone is also dysfunctional because the same power outage that's affecting his/her home is also affecting the nearby cell towers. Or perhaps the outage lasts so long that the cell phone's battery goes dead before it's restored: how, then, does the person recharge it?

One of the safety precautions I always recommend for the elderly, for example (or, really, anyone with a marginally higher statistical likelihood of ever needing to call for help during a power outage) is that they can use a cordless phone -- even on VoIP -- all they want; but they had better also have a completely old-fashioned POTS line with an old-fashioned wall or desk phone connected to it so it can be used when there's no electricity. People in certain parts of the country might just dismiss that need because they happen to live in a place where the electric company is reliable. But just try to convince anyone in Florida, for example, that such places even exist! I'm from Northwest Indian, where its NIPSCO electrical utility was built with the needs of local giant steel mills in mind; and so power, for NIPSCO's customers is among the most reliable in the country. But whenever I've lived (or even just spend any appreciable amount of time) anywhere else, I've experienced, in only let's say six months more outages than in my whole life when living in Northwest Indiana.

Additionally, until cellular service costs as little as does POTS service -- especiallly for the elderly, who sometimes get special packages -- and delivers as much utility for the dollar, wholesale conversion away from POTS will just make telephone more expensive for those who both most need it, and can least afford it.

I'm sorry, but I've been against this for a long time; and I'm very sad, indeed, to read that the handwriting's on the wall for old-fashioned POTS telephony.

Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA
gregg at greggdeselms dot com

Pusing 40 years in IT and telecom.


Posted: 2013-11-21 @ 6:24am PT
First of all, mobile use is not increasing by leaps and bounds. In fact, it has not only reached its peak, it has dropped slightly in the past two years. Second, this will not happen for numerous reasons. The biggest reason will be cost and after that it would require the passing of bills into law requiring the change. I'm happy with my phone plugged into a wall that continues to work even when there is a blackout or severe weather. Besides, it only costs me 18.94 a month including tax. When I dumped my cellular service almost four years ago I not only saved a hundred dollars a month, I have less stress and am not distracted as before.


Posted: 2013-11-21 @ 6:22am PT
Living in a rural area, where the POTS doesn't support DSL at my end, and the wireless capabilities are limited, I am sure moving to IP based phone system will provide me with nothing new. There isn't much investment made in areas that have limited population. Also, the switch to IP base service will probably make it easier for the NSA to listen in.


Posted: 2013-11-21 @ 5:34am PT
IP = mobile. Not sure where some of these comments are getting that from.

m Edwards:

Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 8:10pm PT
Worst idea in the world! You can't even protect those of us who have been hacked, listing our income, sanity, and faith. Someone needs to be held accountable! If you won't help the thousands of us now, how are you going to help victims who call 911 and their calls are being forwarded so they won't receive help???

wary of change:

Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 7:13pm PT
It's one of the most reliable systems we have. Of course, we need to change it! Change it to something that will have service interruptions and less privacy and won't be available in sone areas. Why? Because why would we leave something that isn't broken alone?

frank burns:

Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 6:38pm PT
We have 0 bars, our alarm company will not support wireless; even if they did, we have 0 bars! Solve that one! Good luck. Ok ok, add many more cell towers. Maybe then - LOL!


Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 5:59pm PT
This also will allow the NSA easier access to snoop on phone contacts...isn't the government grand???


Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 5:44pm PT
NSA cant spy if its analog.... so whats the upgrade really about?

Ed. Floden:

Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 5:41pm PT
Now, if we can just convince every ISP to support IPv6…

tel man:

Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 5:31pm PT
This will be very detrimental to rural areas. Areas in which the revenues are less than the investment to upgrade the infrastructure to support this IP platform. Currently in most rural areas you must be roughly 3 miles out of the Central Office (switch). This is the way of allowing rboc's to get rid of the rural areas by saying they can't afford to upgrade the network. They have been wanting to do this for a very long time. Well done fcc chairman. They have talked you into this hook line and sinker.


Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 5:25pm PT
All digital makes it much easier for the NSA. Analog is incompatible and must be converted.


Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 4:42pm PT
When hurricane-force winds took out the power in the Midwest for 4 days, the only technology in my home that worked was POTS. If they make that go away, I, too, will be cellular-only. RIP, indeed, Mother Bell.


Posted: 2013-11-20 @ 3:10pm PT
And by "the American people are my clients", I mean “AT&T and Verizon”

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