The Impact of Technology Transitions on Rural Communities

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Tomorrow afternoon (May 12th), we are bringing together rural policy experts from around the country for an event on the impact of the technology transitions (previously referred to as the “IP Transition”) on rural communities. This event is open to the public and we hope you can join! It will be held on Capitol Hill at the Rayburn House Office Building at 2pm. You can RSVP here.

In the meantime, we have put together some background on the technology transitions to catch you up on what is in progress, what you can expect, and why this is important to you.

What are the technology transitions?

The way the telephone works is changing. The almost-ubiquitous telephone network connecting our country uses copper wires to work. With the advent of new technologies like fiber, wireless, and Internet Protocol (IP), telephone providers have begun to change the technology they use to bring telephone service to your home and business. This change in the underlying technology that makes telephones work is a process called the technology transitions (tech transitions).

Why should you care? Particularly, why is this important to rural and poor communities?

At Public Knowledge, we are working to make sure that the tech transitions are a successful step forward for all Americans and that policymakers continue to uphold the fundamental values of the telephone network.

Copper wires carry their own electricity, which means that even when there is a power outage and your Internet modem and television shut off, your telephone line continues to work because it powers itself. On the other hand, fiber, wireless, and IP technologies do not feature this reliability that millions of Americans have come to trust and rely on, especially during emergencies.  

As part of the Communications Act of 1934, we assigned rules to the telephone network that protect consumers, and those protections helped ensure 97 percent of Americans have access to a telephone line today. However, now that telephone providers want to switch to a new technology, it is not clear if those protections and if telephone service itself will continue to be available to all Americans. A technology change could impact the ability of Americans to access telephone service.

The fundamental question you need to keep in mind is: will Americans continue to have access to telephone service that is reliable, that they can afford, and that will connect them to 911, as well as work with heart monitors, ATM machines, and home alarms? This question is of particular urgency for Americans living in poor and rural communities because these are the least profitable communities to telephone providers, making them less of a priority to ensure they continue to get telephone service.

Who is involved in making these decisions?

There are two layers of policy makers that will make decisions about how we handle the technology transitions: at the federal level, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and at the state level, state representatives and a state’s Public Utilities Commission. Both federal and state policy makers must collaborate because these decisions can connect (or disconnect) the entire country.

How can you engage in this issue?

First and foremost, call your telephone provider and find out what kind of technology they use to bring telephone service to your house or business. Ask them what kind of benefits and challenges that technology offers you as a consumer – Does it work during a power outage? Do you have to buy backup batteries? Does it work with your business ATM machine? Could you buy telephone service by itself or do you have to buy a bundle with other services? Will 911 and emergency response teams be able to find you if you call? Is it more affordable or more expensive than the service you had before?

If you have noticed some changes in your telephone service that you do not like, contact your state’s Public Utilities Commission and let them know. If your state is one of the over 20 states that chose to not collect consumer complaints about telephone service, then contact the FCC and tell them how real Americans feel about the technology transitions. Hurricane season is coming, and though the technology transitions are already moving forward and will continue to do so for a while, we want to make sure people have the information they need to stay safe.

If you are a policymaker, inform yourself and get involved in the tech transitions conversation! This is literally about the ability of your constituents to communicate with you, and communicate about their safety. A great way to get started is to attend our event tomorrow and learn from the experts how to make these transitions truly work for all Americans.

 

Image credit: Flickr user Rennett Stowe

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