Cutting the Cord (Even if You Don’t Want To!)
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a Report and Order known as Technology Transitions, Basically, this document puts forth the requirements wireline (telephony) network operators must meet while transitioning from wired telephony and other wireline services to other technologies. In an effort to protect all of us who use copper-based wire services in one form or another, the FCC has issued a set of what might be called consumers rights.
A Little Wired History
When Ma Bell, the old AT&T long before the break-up, built out the wired telephone network in the United States it did some pretty amazing things. It was a monopoly in every sense of the word in most of the United States. It could have built a less expensive network with less redundancy and less reliability but it chose instead to build a world class, almost mission-critical wired network. It powered phones in our homes and offices from its central offices so when our power went off the phone continued to work. It built redundant routing paths for calls, upgraded field equipment before it had to, built a massive microwave system to transport calls, and ran millions of miles of copper wire, stringing it on telephone poles across the United States. It did such a good job that even today, the most reliable form of voice communications is the wired phone network.
The current FCC commissioners recognize that fact but also that there have been many technology advances since the inception of wireline telephone. Therefore, the six points discussed in its document include: back-up power, notification of the network’s customers and what they should ask their provider, a section on questions and answers, a discussion of copper vs. fiber, and finally how to file a complaint if the network operator does not comply with the previous points. It is clear that the FCC is trying to minimize the impact for customers who will no longer have telephony services available to them via traditional wireline services. However, there are a number of other uses for the same copper wires that carry voice calls. Many of these uses require what is called a “dry pair” of copper wires that runs from one location to another. These are connected to equipment at both ends but the circuit is not attached to the telephony portion of the network. You might think of it as a wire that runs from your stereo to your speaker to carry the sound, or perhaps the wire that connects your thermostat to your heating and/or air conditioning system.
Today thousands of Public Safety agencies use this type of copper circuit to connect remote two-way or wireless radios to a dispatch center. Other departments may use direct copper to send alarms to fire stations, or for direct telephony connections such as what you might imagine as a red phone. Many of these circuits are used for machine-to-machine connectivity (now called the Internet of Things or IoT). Water companies use them to measure the amount of water in a remote storage tank and turn on a pump when it needs replenishing. Cell phones using first, second, and even third-generation technologies used copper circuits to transport voice, text, and data calls from cell sites back to their network and then route them to their destination. Today’s fourth-generation wireless is broadband and copper circuits are no longer capable of handling the amount of data transported to and from the cell sites. Continue reading