By Paul Barbagallo
AT&T Inc. lent support July 29 to Verizon Communications Inc.'s plan to eliminate landline telephone service permanently for a few hundred residents on New York's Fire Island, saying it would make “no sense” for state or federal regulators to try to require Verizon to rebuild the copper infrastructure that was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
“That would force Verizon to invest in obsolete facilities and equipment, much of which has been or soon will be discontinued by their manufacturers, and for which replacement parts and knowledgeable technicians are increasingly scarce, if not altogether unavailable,” AT&T wrote in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission.
“More importantly, even if those facilities and equipment were readily available, it is unlikely that any provider would have a business case for deploying such facilities in the locations at issue, given their unique geography and demographic conditions,” the company added. “Where, as here, there is no prospect for adequate recovery of investment in network facilities, the [FCC] could not lawfully order a service provider to make such investments.”
Verizon's request to the New York Public Service Commission and FCC has become a flash point in the debate over whether regulators should allow telecommunications providers to permanently stop selling what is known as POTS--Plain Old Telephone Service--and start offering their customers internet protocol-based equivalents or, in some cases, home wireless services.
In Verizon's case, the company wants to offer such a wireless service, Voice Link, to the western end of Fire Island, rather than replace the old copper wires capable of carrying POTS calls.
The public-interest community has cried foul, arguing that Voice Link cannot support broadband internet service, fax machines, some medical devices, or alarm systems. In a recent letter to the New York Public Service Commission, Eric Schneiderman, New York's attorney general, wrote: “It is clear that Verizon is leveraging the storm damage from Sandy as part of its long-term strategy to abandon its copper networks.”
But in AT&T's view, the IP transition is “inevitable, driven by market forces and technological changes.”
“Equipment manufacturers have stopped making or are phasing out TDM [time division multiplexing] equipment, making it difficult--and soon impossible--to maintain the facilities and equipment used to provide traditional, wireline voice telecommunications services,” the company said. “Likewise, the workforce that has the expertise to support TDM services and networks is aging, and on the cusp of retirement.”
Much to AT&T's chagrin, the FCC in May decided to seek comment on, rather than approve outright, geographic trials in which the company's and other incumbent local exchange carriers' voice services would be delivered entirely over IP networks--rather than over traditional copper networks.
In its filing to the FCC, AT&T made another call for action.
“The trials will provide a vehicle for identifying the issues created by the transition to all-IP networks and services, and a forum for all stakeholders to identify gaps and potential solutions in an environment in which a TDM safety net still is in place,” it said. “The trials will provide real-world evidence and experience regarding the effects of the transition, and enable the industry, together with the Commission and other stakeholders, to avoid disruptions and consumer harm as the transition continues.”
For AT&T's filing, visit http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/proceeding/view?name=13-150.