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Testing times for US POTS users

There has been a steady, customer-driven drift to VoIP in the US for several years anyway, pushed by the likes of Vonage, but the trend was suddenly given focus when Verizon, instead of resisting VoIP, decided it was all for it and wanted a wireless alternative to replacing all the copper infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. There was a tangible whiff of, “Hang on, if Verizon wants it, it’s almost certainly up to something.”

To be fair, incumbent operators have spent decades mostly telling customers that VoIP was NOT a viable alternative to POTS (QoS and all that) so it’s hardly surprising that customers are now wondering about the change of tack.

The upshot is that the FCC has voted to allow the telephone companies to conduct regional trials to make sure the technology is reliable and high-quality enough to be deployed as an alternative to traditional POTS. The trials will be voluntary for existing subscribers but new customers might find themselves having to take wireless or VoIP by default. The trials are to be conducted for one year.

There’s much suspicion. Rural users in particular, having felt the poor relation in telecoms for decades, worry that they’ll end up with less robust and less capable services unless there’s strong regulatory oversight with trials that come up with results.

According to Karl Bode writing in the excellent DSL Reports, “While one side of the IP transition honestly involves the necessary and inevitable migration away from the PSTN and copper and toward IP-based technologies, AT&T and Verizon have used the transition as cover for a massive effort to strip consumer protections on millions of DSL lines they refuse to upgrade. These efforts have been buried under layers of conflation, oodles of paid sockpuppet opinion pieces, and promises that gutting regulations and letting AT&T walk away from DSL users will somehow magically result in better connectivity for everyone.”

Karl concludes “The FCC's going to need to show an immensely uncharacteristic level of competence and backbone if consumer trauma is going to be minimized as we start formally bidding farewell to copper.”

We may hear more of this.

Follow the writer on Twitter @ ian_TTV

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