FCC Establishes Guidelines for Back-up Power for Voice

FCC_New_LogoIn perhaps one of the oddest rulings I have ever seen out of the FCC, they just ordered a very specific set of rules about providing back-up power for telephone lines that are not powered by copper.

I see this as odd for two reasons. First, this is fifteen years too late. There are tens of millions of customers that are served without backup power today. Customers that get phone service from cable companies, fiber networks, and other VoIP systems don’t have backup power unless the provider has gone out of their way to provide it.

Second, this is obviously the FCC’s way of making it harder for the large telcos to knock people off of copper networks. But in doing so the FCC is punishing the rest of the industry by adding new rules and new costs . .

These new rules seem like a solution without a problem. Why do I say that? We no longer have a world full of the old Western Electric telephones that are powered by the copper network. A phone that has any features, which most modern phones do, must be plugged into home power to work. Further, there have been tens of millions of customers who have elected to take phone service from cable companies and fiber providers, which do not provide backup. And there has not been a huge outcry from these many customers over the last ten years about lack of power backup. The main reason for that is probably that the vast majority of homes have a cellphone today and don’t rely on their home telephone as a lifeline.

Here is what the FCC ordered:

  • The ruling only covers residential fixed voice services that do not provide line power (which is done by telephone copper). This does not apply to business customers.
  • This must be implemented within 120 days by large companies and within 300 days by companies with less than 100,000 domestic retail subscriber lines.
  • The back-up power must include power for all provider-furnished equipment and anything else at the customer location that must be powered to provide 911 service.
  • From the effective date, companies must describe to each new customer, plus to every existing customer annually the following:
    • The solutions offered by the company to provide 8 hours of backup for phone service, including the cost and availability;
    • Description of how the customer’s service would be affected by loss of power;
    • Description of how to maintain the provided backup solution and the warranties provided by the company;
    • How the customer can test the backup system;
  • Within three years of the effective date of the order a provider must provide a back-up solution that is good for 24-hours and follow the above rules.

This just seems like something that should have been addressed in 2000 and that it is far too late to be putting rules in place for this now. This merely adds regulatory cost to every provider without any real benefit to customers. In a lot of networks, if the neighborhood loses power so does the service provider. If such a network is down then no amount of power at the home is going to provide voice service. And there are networks that are going to require a very expensive solution for providing 24-hour back-up if it is even reasonably affordable at all.

The order doesn’t say the back-up solution has to be affordable, and the cynical me says that this is an opportunity for the phone companies to also go into the solar power business. Perhaps the solution they should offer for providing 911 backup is to sell a home a $20,000 solar power system. I know the FCC wouldn’t see the humor in that, but this order is so far out in left field that I have a hard time taking it seriously.