Yes, operators should have choice on realizing vision of a fully connected America
By JONATHAN SPALTER
To connect Americans, smoke signals gave way to stage coaches. Stage coaches gave way to the Pony Express, which gave way to the telegraph. The telegraph gave way to party-line phones. Party-lines gave way to rotary-dial home phones. And, now, traditional phone service (dubbed “Plain Old Telephone Service” or POTS) is giving way to broadband-based Voice over IP Networks.
The one constant about communications technology is that it is always evolving. And Americans have consistently been at the forefront, embracing new products and services that make it easier and less expensive to run our businesses, connect with friends and manage our lives regardless of ZIP code.
Across the country, telecommunications providers continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade their facilities by replacing old copper lines with new fiber-based broadband networks, delivering broadband service and voice calling to businesses and consumers. This is a necessary step. For some of the older networks, replacement parts can only be found on eBay. And the high-tech switches being installed can connect more calls and transfer data much more efficiently.
A USTelecom analysis using Centers for Disease Control data shows that in 2016, 83 percent of Illinois households had already switched to these new technologies, with only 17 percent still waiting to jettison copper-line phone service. And that 17 percent is shrinking rapidly — AT&T told the Chicago Tribune in July that roughly 5,000 traditional landline customers in Illinois are cancelling their old service in favor of newer technologies each week, with less than 10 percent of their household customers still using it.
In Illinois and dozens of other states across the U.S., telecommunications providers are asking for permission to shut down the old copper wire networks and put old switches out to pasture after they’ve upgraded to newer and faster IP-based technologies. Why? It’s expensive to run and repair old networks, especially as a majority of consumers have moved onto the newer fiber-based or wireless networks. And the money saved from this transition? Perhaps another opportunity to get broadband to the estimated 9 percent of Illinois households that don’t have modern, robust connections.
Phasing out new technologies is never easy, but citizens shouldn’t be forced to pay to keep the Pony Express going now that we have more advanced options to deploy. Illinois recently passed legislation that will allow telecom companies to retire these old, increasingly dormant networks. Carriers will still be required to file notice with the FCC for the network change and any consumer whose service is impaired will be notified. And, as the vast majority of Illinois citizens have already decided, there are excellent alternatives available.
Today’s broadband networks are a key link to binding together communities, families and businesses. If we hope to fully realize our dream of a fully-connected nation, we’ll have to follow through on upgrading and replacing aging infrastructure and ensuring that all Americans have access to the robust, transformative and innovative technologies made possible by first-class IP-based fiber networks.
Jonathan Spalter is chief executive officer of USTelecom, the nation’s leading trade association representing service providers and suppliers for the telecom industry. Its diverse member base ranges from large publicly traded communications corporations to small companies and cooperatives – all providing advanced communications services to markets both urban and rural.