The FCC order 19-72A1 has caused quite a frenzy in the telecom industry. Many have interrupted this order to mean that plain-old-telephony-service (POTS) lines are going away in August 2022. However, this order is not a mandate, and it just allows carriers to no longer offer discounted rates to competitors for POTS line resale (and other copper services
Before this new order and according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) had to sell their POTS products at a discount to competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). This allowed the CLECs to sell POTS products at a competitive price in the market without having to build their own infrastructure. The FCC has eliminated this requirement as of August 2, 2022.
ILECs have been supporting an aging copper network because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The result is that the ILECs have had to support and maintain this infrastructure in the face of experienced technicians retiring, replacement parts becoming more expensive, and scarcer and copper cable failing due to age. Many end users have also moved to "cut the cord," so the customer base is shrinking. The FCC order states:
“We (FCC Commissioners) find that the public interest is no longer served by maintaining these legacy regulatory obligations and their associated costs. Rather than a foothold for new entrants in the marketplace, they have become a vice, trapping incumbent LECs into preserving outdated technologies and services at the cost of a slower transition to next-generation networks and services that benefit American consumers and businesses."
What does this mean for the average end user? In the short term, it can mean nothing, business as usual. However, looking ahead, it is something to watch carefully. What are carriers doing because of this order? They are making a lot of changes. Changes are being made to service offerings, prices are increasing, services are being sunsetted, and millions are being invested in faster fiber-based networks.
Earlier this spring, AT&T announced its plan to decommission 50% of its legacy copper network by 2025, offering customers fiber-based services to replace legacy POTS. Other ILECs like Verizon, Lumen, and Windstream are sunsetting services geographically. As an incentive to move away from POTS, carriers are increasing rates — I have seen prices increase as much as $750-1,300 per POTS line. One customer recently reported that their primary rate interface (PRI) rates were doubling. However, these changes have not impacted organizations that have contract rates in place. Many services used by public sector organizations have not been impacted at all. It is important to know what services are in use and whether they are needed.
POTS lines are used in three categories: safety, security and monitoring, and essential lines. Examples of safety lines are fire alarm panels, elevator phones, blue-light public safety phones, and others. Security and monitoring lines include burglar alarms, access control systems, SCADA, and other telemetry services. The rest fall into the essential lines bucket like fax machines, point-of-sale machines, etc. Several substitute devices for POTS lines exist, but it is important to check with your end-users and emergency services authorities before moving ahead with any of them. Here are some options:
- VoIP adapter wired: This is a device that connects to your data network. It usually has multiple ports that your devices can plug into, so it communicated over IP. This may be a good solution for fax machines and analog phones.
- VoIP adapter wireless: This is similar to the wired version but has an LTE connection, so traffic runs over the LTE network. LTE has become a strong player as a backup data solution. Before moving forward with this kind of solution, it is recommended to test with your connected devices.
- VoIP Adapter/wireless router with integrated ATA: Many call this solution a "POTS in a box,” and it has multiple ports to connect multiple analog devices. It will essentially replicate POTS lines. Keep in mind: Since traditional POTS lines do not require local power, it is very important to have backup power connected to this device (and any).
- Wireless alarm devices: Many emergency services organizations have shifted their POTS requirements for fire alarms, elevator lines, etc. and are allowing VoIP lines (with recommended backup power) or LTE solutions. These devices may be located inside a fire or elevator panel and provided by the associated vendor.
Many vendors are developing devices in response to POTS decommissioning but remember: One size may not fit all. Some vendors only focus on one area like fax or elevator lines. It is important to know what you need and investigate ways to meet these challenges
Denise is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.