Honey? Where are the POTS?

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Likely a common question by a bachelor’s new fiancé when first moving in and living with their new mate; or by a newlywed husband that can finally see his kitchen counter for the first time in years, but it’s not something that you’d expect to hear from a telecom manager.

A new phenomenon is beginning to emerge as alternative services to traditional communications have become more predominant. The many options for subscribers, both personal and business users, have significantly increased. In the home consumer subscriber market, it has been given the moniker of ‘cutting the cord,’ signifying the release from the local telephone companies’ stranglehold on local subscribers. Now in its formidable teenage years, this new mode of communications option is wandering into business services.

JULY 10 – UPDATE

Here is an example of an FCC change notification that is public record. I have redacted any identifiable location information as this is just being used as an example of what is occurring.

In this notice, some property exists that has no current POTS service, and the change happening will force the occupant to obtain any new facilities via Fibre services, as the copper facilities that are there, are going away. Also, any legacy services fed through those facilities will likely be moved to Fibre connections in a new Central Office, which would be covered under another change notice.

Be warned; this is a perfect example of how a seemingly harmless change to property with no current service may have a significant impact to other parts of the network. Additionally, even though a public comment period is in place, there is only a few weeks to catch this notice, file a response to it, and then fight it through. Did the property owner get a fair chance?

Let me be perfectly clear. My point here is not about services being upgraded to new faster and more serviceable infrastructure. My point is that what you have today may not really be what you think, and more and more customers need to do homework, that was never required in the past.

This is why I believe that these changes carry the same significance as the famous Bell Telephone divestiture event horizon in the ’80s. That decision by Judge Green and the FCC ended up changing telecommunications forever. Honestly, the jury is still out on the value or detriment of that event, with arguments on both sides. (That is an entire series of blogs on its own!) The ‘Cutting the Cord’ term used to describe the migration from traditional wired telephone carrier services to comparable services provided by what were considered non-traditional providers is now taking on a whole new meaning. More and more customers are receiving notices in the mail that new or expansion of existing services over traditional landline circuits are simply not available as wire centers owned by the telephone companies are being systematically vacated and shut down.

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WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Before the 1983 forced divestiture of American Telephone and Telegraph, Bell was the only game in town for service except for some locally owned co-ops (i.e., United Telephone and many others long since consumed). Not only did they own the Central Offices and Long-Distance network, but, more importantly, the physical infrastructure capable of delivering the last mile service to the destination. This infrastructure includes the utility poles, copper facilities, and most importantly, but often forgotten, the rights of way and easements across private and public properties.

The LEC and the CLEC

Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) and Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) now existed on a fair playing field. Since it would take decades for a CLEC to put up their poles and facilities, the only way to effectively allow competition to arise, which was a primary goal of the Bell break up, was to ensure that these CLECs could exist. Hence, Bell was required to provide facilities to a CLEC on a cost-plus basis. The main point here is that even though you’ve gone to a competitive carrier, the aging legacy infrastructure is still in use and forced to be maintained by the original provider who owns it. The rules of divestiture require that the LEC provide the CLEC with access to their physical infrastructure. There is nothing there stating that they need to continue giving access if they are not using it. Even if you argued that they did have to continue maintaining it, the cost-plus fee model would make it far too expensive for a CLEC to absorb if they are the only one using it.

Think about it this way; you rent an apartment in a building of 10 apartments. Your rent is $1000 a month. You also are responsible for a maintenance fee that covers the cost of the building maintenance plus a small profit for the owner. When the building is 100% occupied, that equates to about $100 a month for your share of the overhead costs. But now the building is empty, except your apartment. In addition to the $1100 that you usually pay, you have to make up the difference of $900 that the building would’ve gotten from the other apartments; this makes your rent double. This forces the simple question:

AM I REALLY CUTTING THE CORD?

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If you move your services to facilities provided by a wireless link over LTE, you are cutting the cord. Even if you move your voice communications to your local cable provider or one that delivers connectivity to your facility over fiber optic, you are cutting the cord. Considering the positives and negatives will realize the maximum risk avoidance.

But what about technology changes that affect the legacy network?  What if I buy my local service from Fletch-Tone Telecom, offering rock-bottom local and long-distance calling rates and excellent customer service. But Fletch-Tone has no facilities. I just rent the legacy copper facilities I need from the LEC.  The net result? Bell no longer has complete control, Fletch-Tone, as a CLEC, can exist competitively, and you as the customer still get that solid legacy analog connection, as you just don’t trust the new IP-based networks.

The problem here is that while you’ve been insulated from the LEC, your ability to monitor what is happening has also been hidden. Dwindling profits at the bottom of this technology stack have prompted the LEC to upgrade to a more efficient modern infrastructure. Legacy circuits are disconnected and replaced with new digital gateways. Central offices and wire centers are closed as infrastructure is retired, and the gateways are moving closer and closer to the endpoints. Even though you have decided NOT to cut the cord, the infrastructure providers below you have made that decision for you. Yet, once again, your visibility is impaired, and you’re unaware of the problem.

SHOULD I STAY, OR SHOULD I GO?

In 1981, did The Clash think about their impact on the future of telecommunications when they wrote this classic song for their Combat Rock album? Likely not, but while listening to the words, it did make me chuckle. I’ve concluded that technology will always change, and with these changes, the industry will ultimately adapt. The inevitable collateral damage to the end-user is simply unavoidable, and this is where an enterprise roadmap and future vision strategy becomes critical in providing a layer of protection. 

Instead of wondering and worrying if your carrier has cut the cord behind your back without warning, why not just face the foreseeable evolution and make the required plans to cut the cord yourself. A benefit is that this immediately reveals, Enterprises now have a choice of providers. This builds a more organic competitive environment, opening the door for more competitive pricing and better SLAs. REMEMBER,  Service Providers still need to produce revenue to stay financially sound. Reduced income can severely impact maintaining aging equipment, and end-users need to be cognizant that their provider won’t unintentionally leave them stranded. Establishing new digital connections now will provide a level of security in the future as you can take charge of the connectivity and make alternative plans well ahead of needing them. This alleviates worries about service disruptions from forced upgrades and protects you from any hardware change requirements and infrastructure to support these new networks. Regardless of where you end up from network connectivity and how your new service is provided, please remember to not take 911 emergency services for granted. As the networks become more complex and more entities get involved in the call flow, the risk of unintentional miss handling emergency calls increases dramatically.

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Instead of taking two steps backward when implementing new technology, understand this technology, or contract with a consultant who can adequately advise you. Need a good telecom consultant? You can start with the Society of Communications Technology Consultants at http://www.SCTCConsultants.org, where you will find the absolute best in the industry, with the highest ethics and technical ability.

Full Disclosure: I serve as the SCTC Vice President of Consultant Education (uncompensated position), and 911inform, LLC  is a proud member of the SCTC Vendor Advisory Council.  

Remember, Federal Laws now requires businesses to provide accurate 911 location services in order to maintain a safe work environment for your staff and visitors. Not only is it a mandatory effort, but it’s also just the right thing to do. For more information about the tragic story that started this initiative, I urge you to reach out to Hank Hunt, or visit the Kari Hunt Foundation.

STAY WELL AND BE SAFE . . .

Please follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Be sure to check out my Blogs and Podcasts on: Fletch.TV

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