The Federal Communications Commission hosted a Technology Transition Task Force presentation Dec. 12, as it begins the process of overseeing the phone companies' desired transition from old copper landlines to IP (Internet protocol)-based networks.
The key point about the transition—which all involved parties agree has its benefits—is that legislation regarding the phone networks, which includes assurances of customer privacy and the right to have 99.999 percent reliable phone service, is tied to the copper networks, and not the general premise of phone service.
"As network services are transformed from 19th century analog technology to 21st century IP technology, the question we must answer is how to ensure that the values that consumers have come to expect from their networks are preserved and enhanced," FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said in a Dec. 12 statement that went on to state what has already been accomplished and what must still be addressed.
"Building IP-based networks has been refined over the years, so we don't really need 'technology' experiments. What we do need are technology impact experiments, because technology transitions will ultimately move up a notch," Wheeler continued.
"Today, for example, IP is an ancillary capability while TDM remains universally available; tomorrow, IP will be the delivery technology. These experiments are therefore designed to identify in advance issues that must be resolved—and their solutions—so that consumers can continue to rely on the networks that connect them."
Many have called Verizon Communications' deployment of Voice Link, its IP-based phone solution, to parts of New York that had its copper infrastructure washed away by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 an early, and failed, experiment.
Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, attended the FCC's Dec. 12 meeting and said in a statement the same day that Public Knowledge is pleased by the "deliberate" approach the FCC is taking, and that people who believe that copper has become largely redundant, as more people rely on wireless phones, are mistaken.
Feld quoted a 2012 FCC report that found 96 million people still subscribe to traditional copper-line phone service.
"We are talking about taking one-third of the population of the United States and forcibly migrating them to a new technology," said Feld.
He continued, "Those who keep claiming we can upgrade one-third of our communications network without any plan or oversight and have nothing go wrong are either fooling themselves or selling something. Those who express impatience with the FCC's deliberate approach need a healthy dose of humility about technology and an appreciation of what happens if people can't reach 9-1-1 because of a 'glitch' in the upgrade, or if people start to fall off the grid."
Public Knowledge, with the Center for Media Justice, has created a free report called "What's the Hangup" as part of an effort to educate the public about how the phone transition affects them and how they can get involved to make sure their rights are protected. It's available on the Public Knowledge site.