Verizon to Retire Copper

Verizon is asking the FCC for permission to retire copper networks throughout its service territory in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. In recent months the company has asked to kill copper in hundreds of exchanges in those states. These range from urban exchanges in New York City to exchanges scattered all over the outer suburbs of Washington DC and Baltimore. Some of these filings can be found at this site.

The filings ask to retire the copper wires. Verizon will no longer support copper in these exchanges and will stop doing any maintenance on copper. The company intends to move people who still are served by copper over to fiber and is not waiting for the FCC notice period to make such conversions. Verizon is also retiring the older DMS telephone switches, purchased years ago from the long-defunct Northern Telecom. Telephone service will be moved to more modern softs switches that Verizon uses for fiber customers.

The FCC process requires Verizon to notify the public about plans to retire copper and if no objections are filed in a given exchange the retirement takes place 90 days after the FCC’s release of the public notice to retire. Verizon has been announcing copper retirements since February 2017 and was forced to respond to intervention in some locations, but eventually refiled most retirement notices a second time.

Interestingly, much of the FiOS fiber network was built by overlashing fiber onto the copper wires, so the copper wires on poles are likely to remain in place for a long time to come.

From a technical perspective, these changes were inevitable. Verizon is the only big telco to widely build fiber plan in residential neighborhoods and it makes no sense to ask them to maintain two technologies in neighborhoods with fiber.

I have to wonder what took them so long to get around to retiring the copper. Perhaps we have that answer in language that is in each FCC request where Verizon says it “has deployed or plans to deploy fiber-to-the-premises in these areas”. When Verizon first deployed FiOS they deployed it in a helter-skelter manner, mostly sticking to neighborhoods which had the lowest deployment cost, usually where they could overlash on aerial copper. At the time they bypassed places where other utilities were buried unless the neighborhood already had empty conduit in place. Perhaps Verizon has quietly added fiber to fill in these gaps or is now prepared to finally do so.

That is the one area of concern raised by these notices. What happens to customers who still only have a copper alternative? If they have a maintenance issue will Verizon refuse to fix it? While Verizon says they are prepared to deploy fiber everywhere, what happens to customers until the fiber is in front of their home or business? What happens to their telephone service if their voice switch is suddenly turned off?

I have to hope that Verizon has considered these situations and that they won’t let customers go dead. While many of the affected exchanges are mostly urban, many of them include rural areas that are not covered by a cable company competitor, so if customers lose Verizon service, they could find themselves with no communications alternative. Is Verizon really going to build FiOS fiber in all of the rural areas around the cities they serve?

AT&T is also working towards eliminating copper and offers fixed cellular as the alternative to copper in rural places. Is that being considered by Verizon but not mentioned in these filings?

I also wonder what happens to new customers. Will Verizon build a fiber drop to a customer who only wants to buy a single telephone line? Will Verizon build fiber to new houses, particularly those in rural areas? In many states the level of telephone regulation has been reduced or eliminated and I have to wonder if Verizon still sees themselves as the carrier of last resort that is required to provide telephone service upon request.

Verizon probably has an answer to all of these questions, but the FCC request to retire copper doesn’t force the company to get specific. All of the questions I’ve asked wouldn’t exist if Verizon built fiber everywhere in an exchange before exiting the copper business. As somebody who has seen the big telcos fail to meet promises many times, I’d be nervous if I was a Verizon customer still served by copper and had to rely on Verizon’s assurance that they have ‘plans’ to bring fiber.

4 thoughts on “Verizon to Retire Copper

  1. A significant concern are power outages. Copper lines, as a redundant safety system, can carry alarm signals to via relay stations with generator power backup. FIOS subsystems with battery power backup at branch points, seem to die quickly. Mobile phone carriers, such as those mounted on HV lines, may die quickly as well. This does not even take an EMP.
    Copper lines when switched to FIOS would die rapidly as well. For example, On 6/30/2019, our FIOS died some 15 minutes after an area-wide power outage while our backup system maintained LAN function for the next few hours.

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  2. I agree with Wolfram’s comment below. Every time I ask our local Verizon people what they are doing to resolve (or create an alternative) to the limited battery back-up system for our local phones that are on the FIOS system, I get a blank stare! Isn’t anyone concerned about another 9/11 or worse? Our electrical grids in the U.S. are already prime targets.
    How about at least adding the option of a solar grid to the back-up unit? The last Verizon info I read on their Fios phone system listed their battery back-up as having only “UP TO” 2 – 6 hours of power. What about all the folks and elderly who have health problems and must have access to a working phone in case they need EMS or need to transmit important health data from medical devices?? I believe the percentage of the population this will affect is rather significant. Who is considering them?

    If these problems have already been addressed and resolved and I am simply ignorant of the situation, please do let me know. It is a major concern for our family and I am tired of fighting with Verizon about this. None, in our local area anyway, seem to be able to provide us with answers.

    While I agree that newer technology is great and it does not make good business sense to continue to spend money running what they consider an “obsolete” system … until the new fiber optics systems meet all the public’s basic requirements for service, the old system can hardly be considered “obsolete.” I feel Verizon is putting “profits” in front of “people.” Again, if I am wrong, someone please provide me with an adequate and TRUE explanation. I’ve had quite enough of the “company line.” Thank you.

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    • The FCC requires that telephone companies offer two options for backing up phones – an 8-hour and a 24-hour backup. The phone companies must provide a cost for the solution, and usually it’s a one-time fee for the back-up gear. You can usually do better by buying a good UPS yourself.

      However, as you already have figured out, having back-up is worthless if the fiber network isn’t working. Unlike the old days where copper carried electricity even when the services might not be working, the fiber network carries only light and not electricity.

      I wish there was a better answer for you. There are ways for you to provide back up power for the ONT (the Verizon electronics on the outside of the house). But that can get rather complicated. And it doesn’t help to power that little box if the Verizon network is down because of fiber cuts from fallen trees and that sort of thing.

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