There’s been a lot of talk lately in the business phone service industry suggesting that the FCC is ordering the end of POTS technology on August 2, 2022. We’re here to tell you that this is not exactly true and to explain what the FCC order actually means – and how it affects your business.
POTS is an acronym for “Plain Old Telephone Service” and it refers to a basic phone line provided over copper wiring. This technology has been the foundation of telecommunications for the last 150 years and it is finally reaching its end of life. Copper technology is limited in bandwidth and expensive to maintain, so the telecom industry has spent the last couple of decades replacing it with fiber based technology at an ever-increasing pace. But there is still a lot of copper wiring in service.
The telecom providers would like to move faster, but one reason why there’s still so much copper in service is the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In that Act, incumbent providers (ILECs) were required to sell their POTS (and other copper) products to competitive providers (CLECs) at a discount. This allowed CLECs to resell competitively-priced products to customers without building out an entire network. More recently, however, the FCC has decided that this requirement does not serve the public interest any longer and it is slowing the transition to newer technologies. Therefore, they eliminated this requirement in FCC order 19-72A1, effective August 2, 2022.
This FCC order has caused a lot of anxiety and confusion in the business phone service industry. Many industry members and consultants have misinterpreted the effect of the order, saying that it requires vendors to stop supporting all POTS technologies by August 2, 2022. This is not true, but it has caused a lot of anxiety in the telecom industry because many critical functions still rely on POTS service, such as alarm and fire panel lines, elevator phones, and point-of-sale and fax machines. The order is not a mandate and it doesn’t require the end of POTS, so these services are safe for now, but carriers have a different idea.
Now that the carriers are free of the competitive pricing rules for POTS services, they are moving aggressively to retire these products. AT&T announced earlier this year that they are retiring 50% of their legacy copper network by 2025 and the other vendors are sunsetting their copper networks by geography. Vendors are also providing incentives for customers to voluntarily move away from copper – by raising prices. POTS services that once cost $35 per line are increasing to $100, $200, or as much as $750 per line. The time has come to think seriously about alternatives.
There are several different alternatives to replacing POTS lines, from wired ATA devices that plug into your network, wireless devices that connect over the cellular network, to “POTS-in-a-box” solutions that are fully managed. One important thing to consider is that POTS lines provided their own power, so you will need to ensure that you have adequate battery backup for your replacement technologies. Also, many emergency services have changed their POTS requirements for fire alarms, elevator lines and the like, but your replacement solution may still be required to meet specific standards, so you need to be aware of your local regulations.
The takeaway – POTS services are not going away on August 2nd, but it’s still a good time to be planning a replacement of these critical services. Vendors are retiring the services across the board and raising prices to make POTS very expensive. Making a plan to smoothly transition your existing POTS services to alternative options will protect you from future turmoil – and may even save money in the bargain.