Plain Old Telephone Service In the All-Internet World

According to this article from, an Astroturf group is pushing an AT&T agenda to deregulate telecom business as consumers now rely much more on the use of smart wireless devices, cellphones, wired Internet-enabled VoIP services, and over-the-top Internet-enabled applications, than traditional plain-old-telephony service (POTS).

AT&T says that century-old rules designed to spread phone service to all Americans should be eliminated as the country moves from traditional phone lines to all-IP (Internet Protocol) networks. The company bases their assertions on a report by Georgetown professor Anna-Maria Kovacs. One of her key conclusions in her report, “Telecommunications competition: the infrastructure-investment race”  stated that to enhance competition and maintain a world-leading role in broadband access, which both Congress and the Administration desire, the US must complete the transition to a telecom infrastructure based entirely on IP, and the ILECs (Incumbent phone companies – i.e. AT&T and Verizon et al) must be allowed to re-purpose the capital that is currently deployed to support their obsolete circuit switched networks into fiber-based broadband IP networks.

Well, of course that would be great for AT&T (and Verizon et al), and it might even speed the transition to the IP-network nirvana.  However, there is another side of story. Many Americans still rely on copper-based DSL for Internet access, and telecoms have proven themselves uninterested in replacing copper with fiber in all parts of the country.  In addition, current regulation requires every telecom service provider to build and maintain access to telephone service in rural areas. What will happen to people in the rural areas once they can no longer use their home phone nor access the IP network if the ILECs are allowed to completely phase out the older technologies?

It’s not really in doubt that IP networks are the future of Telecom and there will come a time when the older technologies can be allowed to expire.  It is also true that no one is manufacturing the equipment required to sustain the older technologies much longer.  We’re just not there yet, and rather than ditch the telecom regulation entirely, it would be better to offer incentives for the telecom companies to replace their infrastructure, much like the prospect of Long Distance opened the local markets to competition.

Posted in