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Help! They're Taking Away My POTS!

A funny thing has happened while we've all been paying attention to VoIP and SIP trunks. Those plain old telephone service (POTS) lines have suddenly become expensive circuits, and we don't have a bulletproof solution to replace all of them.

This is sort of like figuring out who you're going to ask to the prom. You spend your time and attention on the captain of the cheerleading squad, figuring you can count on the girl next door if that plan doesn't work out. The only problem is you didn't get your date with the cheerleader, and now you discover that your backup isn't available either!

Unfortunately, most businesses can't get away from POTS altogether. IT doesn't have time to research proven and reliable POTS alternatives, and alarms, elevators, faxes, phone system backup, and many other equipment that a business depends on rely on RJ11 POTS connections. Who doesn't want the peace of mind that comes with 99.999% reliable phone lines that don't need power cords (since POTS lines gets their power from the phone company's central office)?

Comcast, Charter Communications, and other cable companies have been wooing residential customers with triple-play packages combining cable TV, phone, and Internet services. In doing so, they've chipped away at the telcos' most reliable revenue stream. And wireless providers have enticed consumers as well; according to a U.S. government study, there are now fewer POTS lines than cellular lines in the residential market , as CBS News reported earlier this year.

Consider the flood damage Hurricane Sandy wreaked on central offices in the Northeast back in 2012. The flooding gave AT&T and Verizon pause, leading them to wonder, "Why should we rebuild these when we can use VoIP instead and use a data center (with redundancy) anywhere in the world instead of multiple central offices?!"

But the carriers must still pay the fixed costs of field technical staff salaries, benefits, trucks, and equipment even as the POTS inventory shrinks. It doesn't take an economics Ph.D. to figure out the cost must increase for POTS -- and has it ever! We've seen sharp rate increases in 2017, and expect the trend to continue next year.

However, AT&T, Verizon, and other incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) have seen this coming for a while, as have the competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs). While CLECs generally don't sell POTS any longer, the ILECs have lobbied state legislatures and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove the requirement to deliver POTS. Selling copper isn't cool anymore. If fact, it's just too expensive and delivers little value in return.

In 2014, the FCC began conducting trials on converting entire communities from PSTN to VoIP. And so far 20 states have authorized the end of POTS to the ILECs.

On reliability POTS has always come out on top -- who doesn't love a technology that simply works, every time, when you plug it in? But the rising costs are forcing a look at alternatives. Whether you're in front of the trend or following it, you need to keep moving your business away from POTS (and for that matter Centrex and ISDN PRI). Here's what we tell our clients:

  1. Cut whatever you don't need. This means you need an up-to-date inventory of circuits labeled by use. This is also where you save the most money.
  2. Move whatever you can to an alternative technology (DID on the PRI, eFax, SIP, or IP-based technology). There are plenty of alternatives to POTS, so go after the low-hanging fruit.
  3. Get the best POTS contract you can for the longest term possible. You're not going to be able to move all your equipment off POTS lines. These are the ones you may need to live with until you have a better alternative.

We really don't know how long POTS will be around, but IT is tasked with finding cost-effective solutions to organizational needs. Now is the time to work your magic before you're stuck with your POTS lines falling off contract and the ILEC saying it's not offering contracts on the service any longer!

portable"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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  • Telephony Elegy for Rural America
  • When to Turn Your POTS into PANS