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FCC Mulls Easing Copper Retirement Regulations

Carl Weinschenk

One of the promises of the Trump administration, and indeed any Republican administration, is to stimulate business by reducing rules and paperwork. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is voting to start the ball rolling on proposals that would take big steps in that direction.

The goal is to encourage investment by simplifying network modernization procedures. One part of this is streamlining rules related to the retirement of copper in favor of fiber optics. Chairman Ajit Pai addressed the issue at the Reason Media awards. He pointed out that much of the copper in the field is old. Some, in fact, has been in service for a century.

The issue involves the amount of time that various players in the food chain must be alerted that the copper upon which they rely is being replaced. This chain includes competitive local exchange carrier (CLECs), wholesale providers of connectivity as well as residential and commercial end users. In some cases, the affected parties must be provided with options on how they will be serviced.

State Scoop, which reported on a letter by a number of organizations to the FCC, simplified what is on the table:


Within the current FCC guidelines, carriers are prohibited from discontinuing or impairing services unless there is a comparable replacement. The new rules would give AT&T, Verizon and others the right to leave residents with broadband that — in addition to slow or spotty connectivity — might be incapable of servicing devices that require reliable and persistent connections, like health monitors, alarm systems, credit card machines, hearing aid devices and even 911 calls, the letter states.

The letter to the FCC, signed by 22 organizations, uses Fire Island, N.Y. as an example of what can happen when the rules are not carefully changed. Fire Island is a resort and vacation area on the south shore of eastern Long Island that was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. Verizon was allowed to use a less onerous test to justify replacement of the copper with fixed wireless. The new service, the letter says, couldn't work with many third-party services or provide 911 service.

Another letter was sent to Pai by a group of 15 Democratic senators. The senators, naturally, take the point of view of their constituents. At a higher level, they echo the same themes as the other letter. The group adds that alarm systems, fax communications, medical monitoring devices and digital subscriber line (DSL) connectivity could be negatively affected.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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