Carrier Practices Can Tarnish Copper Retirement
Some enterprises and consumers may not see the migration from copper to IP as all that beneficial.
As I've written previously on No Jitter, carriers continue to retire copper line infrastructure and connectivity as they migrate to IP-connected environments with the hopes of improving value for themselves and creating upsell opportunities. However, many of those at the other end of the copper cable -- enterprises as well as consumers -- see the migration from copper to IP as a disruption and cost that may not benefit them.
Let's take a look at various motivations and affects.
The ILEC View
In a June filing with the FCC, Verizon articulated its support for allowing incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to provide short notices for copper retirement. It argued that longer notices would delay the IP transition.
I, however, don't believe this to be the case. Carriers plan their budgets much further than three months in advance. They surely know when and where they will stop supporting copper over the long term, so notices issues a year in advance should not be problematic.
In outlining its case for terminating copper plant, Verizon noted:
- The copper cable is aging and will cost a lot to refurbish -- an undesirable situation for the ILEC with a reducing revenue stream
- Replacement parts are either no longer available or too costly to keep the TDM/copper world running
- As qualified technicians retire, their replacements do not see a future in supporting TDM and copper
On the other side, ILECs are looking for more profitable revenue; this does not include copper. By letting existing plant deteriorate, a carrier can upsell customers to more profitable services. By retiring copper/TDM plant, a ILEC reduces its central office (CO) footprint. It then can sell, lease, or reuse the empty space for a profit -- the IP room uses less than one quarter the space of a TDM room.
The CLEC View
In one sense, the competitive LEC is in the same position as a customer. The earlier the notification, the longer a CLEC can plan for the loss of copper connections. This allows for less impact on a CLEC's customers and their budgets. Since migrating to IP means either replacing many endpoints with IP-capable endpoints or buying copper-to-IP converters, the customer will need to budget for the IP transition appropriately.
For a CLEC position, read XO Communications's June filing with the FCC.
The Union View
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) contends that Verizon is neglecting its copper plant in multiple states, as stated in a letter filed with the Public Service Commission of Maryland. In its cases, the CWA states that Verizon Maryland has not taken care of damaged, unsecured, and broken telephone poles and cable and splice terminals, and has bypassed damaged cable. The filing includes photos to bolster its claims.
The CWA says Verizon is neglecting its copper plant in other states, too, including Pennsylvania. Verizon, however, strongly disagrees with the CWA findings, noting its own surveys of service assurance.
In my review of these findings, it appears to me that Verizon is abandoning its copper plant with the goal of speeding the move of customers to IP. However, the copper plant seems to be deteriorating faster than Verizon is deploying the IP infrastructure.
It is not a matter of if but when the enterprise or consumer will have to implement its end of the carrier's IP transition. In doing so, enterprises will need to account for equipment costs as well IT/telecom staff time for planning and execution. The staff will have to postpone other projects or pay for consultants and/or value-added resellers to perform the transition work.
IP networks may force a change in management and troubleshooting tools, with an associated expense. The cost of connecting to IP will probably be higher than the cost of connecting to copper. The latency of IP networks may hamper the operation of existing endpoints, such as those supporting telemetry. The customer, when given a three-month notification, will be disrupted more than if the notifications are one year in advance.
My Experience With Verizon
I am a longtime Verizon FiOS business customer, and am generally happy with the service and its support. For my home, though, I kept a copper line so that I would have a CO-powered phone during emergencies. This came in handy a few years ago when I lost power for about one week. I ate at restaurants a lot so I could charge my cell phone, but my TDM/copper connection still worked.
During a recent storm, however, I experienced voice-quality problems on my copper line. Verizon gave me two choices: Lose phone service, or go to FiOS. Would it have repaired the line if it had been supporting DSL?
Since I already had business FiOS, Verizon could implement my home phone via the existing FiOS connection while keeping the bills separate. However, I lost the TDM power over copper. (I could get battery backup for the home phone, but it would last only eight hours.)
By not fixing the copper -- and I know it has spares in the cable -- Verizon forced my transition to IP. In moving my home line to FiOS, it is making higher revenue from me while not providing the same level of service. IP does not equal what I had with a copper connection.
For my previous No Jitter coverage on copper retirement, see: