FCC Orders Rules for Copper Retirement

FCC_New_LogoThe FCC in Docket FCC 15-97 issued some new guidelines for telcos that are going to cut customers off copper or impair legacy services. The same order also asks further questions in the firm of a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This docket is part of the ongoing effort that has been called the IP Transition, where the national goal is transition from the traditional PSTN to an all-IP network.

One of the primary results of the order is notice to customers. Notice is of two types – notice to end-user customers and notice to other carriers. The new requirement is to give a three-month notice to residential customers when they are going to lose copper and give a six-month notice to business customers. Phone companies would be allowed to retire and remove copper with no notice as long as no customer service is discontinued, reduced, or impaired.

The order clarifies that ‘retirement’ means de facto retirement such that a carrier changes the service so that legacy products are no longer available. This means that a phone company can’t arbitrarily cut customers from analog copper services to a digital equivalent without supplying this notice. This is something that companies that are upgrading customers from copper to fiber need to take notice of and be prepared to notify your customers in a timely manner before the transition.

The FCC has taken note that there are legacy services that can be impacted by removing copper or from shifting to IP. For example, there are some burglar alarm services that still run off copper phone lines, although most providers of these services can readily switch over to an IP connection. There are also some old fax machines that cannot easily be made to work on VoIP and work only on copper. But for most homes, moving from a copper to a newer network has very little practical effect, except perhaps for the fact that their phones will no longer be powered by the network, which the FCC addressed in another Docket.

There can be a much bigger impact on businesses. I’ve worked with clients recently that are still using numerous ISDN connections and T1s provided over copper. There are also still huge numbers of business key systems and PBXs that are fed by T1s and PRIs. When a telco is going to discontinue these services they often require a business to make a big expenditure. This could entail buying a new phone system, new phones and perhaps even finding a new provider if the phone company can’t supply the new connection they are going to need.

The biggest issue I see with getting rid of copper is where the phone company doesn’t have an alternate landline network ready for the transition. It doesn’t seem like a big issue to me when a company like Verizon wants to move customers from copper to FiOS. There have already been tens of millions of customers who have changed from copper to either FiOS fiber or to a cable company network who have experienced and accepted the required changes.

But AT&T has said that they want to walk away from millions of rural copper customers. That would force customers to migrate to either the cable company or to cellular wireless. This could be a huge problem for business customers because there are still a lot of business districts that have never been wired by the cable companies. And even where a business can change to a cable company network, they are not always going to be able to buy the services they want from the cable company. For example, those businesses might be using trunks or Centrex today that isn’t supported by their cable provider. These businesses are going to be facing an immediate and expensive upgrade cost to keep the kind of service they have always had.

And of course, once you get outside of towns there generally is no alternative to copper other than wireless. As bad as rural DSL can be, having a 1 Mbps DSL connection is still better than having to use cellular data for a home broadband connection. At least DSL has unlimited usage where most cellular data plans have tiny data caps. And unfortunately, there are many rural areas where cell phone coverage is poor or non-existent. Cutting down copper in those areas would be basically cutting homes and businesses off from any communications.

3 thoughts on “FCC Orders Rules for Copper Retirement

  1. This is good information. Our Subdivision in Stafford, Virginia was serviced by Verizon with DSL. Have been for the last 15 or so years. We have 18 lots. Last year, several houses were sold and the new owners discovered that Verizon would no longer provide DSL service. We have no other provider, although Comcast provides service to the newer adjacent subdivisions. Stafford County’s infrastructure requires 20 plus houses in order to cause Comcast to provide infrastructure at no cost to us. If Verizon had notified us about their intent to retire service and/or reduce service, we could have been included in the grouping of the newer developments. Now Comcast wants to charge us $25,000 for about a mile of infrastructure, which most of our owners cannot afford. So, we are stuck here with no provider for new owners and existing owners cannot sell their homes now that we know there is no provider. We are thinking about contact the FCC as it seems from reading FCC 15-97, that Verizon should have notified us at the very least…also it seems that there should have been something already in place for us to transition to, without us having to pay for our own infrastructure. Any advice? Thanks.

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    • You are not alone. There are pockets of homes like yours all over the country that somehow just got left out of broadband. We tend to think if this as a rural problem, but a lot of these pockets are in the heart if urban America.

      I don’t think you will get much of a response from the FCC. But if you contact them they will force Verizon and Comcast to talk to you again. But you’re likely to get the same story. I would suggest your whole neighborhood contact the county to see if they can’t out pressure to get you a solution. Might not work, but I’ve seen local solutions work better than the national ones.

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  2. Thanks for the reply. Our subdivision president and vp did attend a County TCC meeting…and from there we went to the $25,000 fee. This was after an individual in our subdivision was trying to work with Comcast and they quoted her $12,000 after some negotiation…and that was supposedly to put infrastructure for the entire road (about one mile). We were hoping to get this price down, but after meeting with the County TCC where a Comcast rep attended (Verizon was not at that particular meeting), the subsequent price went to $25,000. When we presented our case, we didn’t have all the information that we have now about Verizon’s transition away from DSL.

    One of the problems might be that the Verizon DSL footprint on the maps FCC has might be reflecting larger swaths of areas being serviced by DSL than actual areas serviced. Another nearby county could help offset some of these infrastructure cost by using grants; however they can’t get them due to erroneous mapping information. I am thinking the same is true for our county. So…perhaps we will write to FCC and also attend another TCC meeting with some of these issues, including the high price that Comcast requires for our infrastructure.

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