Last week, in Washington, the Rural Broadband Policy Group, Center for Rural Strategies, and Public Knowledge invited policymakers, their staff, and stakeholders to a briefing about the various policy issues implicated in the technology transitions, and how these transitions impact rural communities. We hosted a conversation centered on reaffirming the fundamental values of our communications network – universal service, reliability, consumer protections, public safety, and competition.
Below is an introduction to this topic and a variety of related resources, including video of this event.
The traditional phone network is a great success story in the history of communications service in the United States. Universal Service rules helped extend telephone lines to rural communities, and today, landline telephone is the most available, affordable, and reliable communications service in rural America.
But, the way the telephone works is changing. The telephone network that connects our country has traditionally used copper wires and TDM technology to bring telephone service to your home and business. Now, telephone providers have begun to transition from copper networks to wireless and fiber networks that use Internet Protocol (IP) technology. This change in the underlying technology of our telephone network is a process called the "Technology Transitions."
The transitions present us with the opportunity to improve communications services for all Americans, but they must be handled responsibly. It is our duty to ensure a transition in technology is a true step forward for all Americans and that no one is left without a reliable, affordable way to communicate.
Technology Transitions Policy Issues
- Service Availability (State bills, 214(a) Process)
A change in technologies could change the services available to consumers. A provider might want to stop using its copper lines and offer wireless or Internet-based voice services. But, many rural consumers live in areas with spotty cellphone reception or where Internet service is not available. Retiring copper lines has been a central focus of both state legislation and the Federal Communications Commission’s Tech Transitions efforts. What process should a carrier follow if it wants to retire its copper lines? What services will be in place for rural consumers if their carrier decides to change technologies? Speakers: Mimi Pickering, Appalshop, Kentucky; Jodie Griffin, Public Knowledge, Washington, D.C.
For more information, see:
Mimi Pickering - Kentucky Deregulation Bill Strips Communication Rights, Poses Risks for State’s Citizens
Kentucky Resources Council - Senate Bill 3 / House Bill 152: 2015 Version of AT&T’s Deregulation Bill Fails To Assure Continued Access To Reliable Basic Phone Service
For All Kentuckians
Public Knowledge - Five Fundamentals of the Network Transition
- Network Resiliency (Backup Power, 911 connectivity, additional devices)
Copper wires are able to carry electricity, which allows telephones to continue to work during a power outage. This characteristic makes the traditional phone network resilient, particularly during emergencies and natural disasters when Americans need it most. Today, new technologies (fiber, wireless, VoIP) do not carry their own electricity, and some cannot guarantee a connection to 911 or additional devices such as medical alarms, home alarms, and ATMs. In addition, the new technologies might require consumers to be responsible for securing backup power. Speaker: Randy McDonald, The Broadband Alliance of Mendocino County, Laytonville, California
- Rural Call Completion
In an effort to find the most cost-effective approach to complete calls to and from rural areas, some providers resorted to offshoring “call completion” responsibility to IP-based contractors who did not actually complete the calls. Transitioning to an IP-based technology could revive issues with rural call completion. Speaker: Regina Costa, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), California
For more information, see:
Regina Costa, Telecommunications Policy Director, TURN - Rural Call Completion
- Consumer Education
Most consumers do not know what technology their telephone carrier uses to bring service to their home or business. Educating all consumers about the benefits, challenges, and responsibilities they will acquire as our telephone network transitions must be a multi-stakeholder conversation amongst policymakers, telecommunications providers, the FCC, state agencies, and public interest groups. Speaker: Whitney Kimball Coe, National Rural Assembly, Kentucky
- Affordable Broadband
53% of rural areas (22 million rural Americans) do not have access to broadband service. As broadband becomes a necessary technology to maintain voice service, we must collaborate to make it available and affordable to all Americans. What tools do the federal government and FCC have at their disposal to expand broadband access in rural communities? Hear from a Lifeline phone service subscriber about how this program could help bring affordable broadband to all Americans. Speaker: Sharell Harmon, YouthBuild North Central, Elkins, West Virginia
For more information, see:
YouthBuild Rural Caucus - Recommendations on Lifeline Modernization