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Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve initial steps towards protecting consumers during the tech transitions.
Phone and broadband providers are currently transitioning legacy communications networks in a variety of technological ways, from copper to fiber, Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM) Protocol to Internet Protocol (IP), and increasingly to wireless networks—a process commonly referred to as the “tech transitions.”
The first tech transition proposal the FCC approved is a Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on competition and consumer protection policies for wireline network services.
The second approved proposal is a Report and Order on ensuring continuity of 9-1-1 communications during power outages.
The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, Vice President for Government Affairs at Public Knowledge:
“The transition of our nation’s communications networks has been ongoing for years. Ultimately, these transitions will provide new innovative services to millions of Americans. However, the FCC’s actions today are important steps needed to ensure that as the network is upgraded, no Americans are left with a downgrade in their basic communications.
“These actions are in line with the FCC’s Network Compact, which was unanimously approved in 2014 as the fundamental values of communications networks: 1) Service to all Americans; 2) Competition and interconnection on the network; 3) Basic Consumer Protections; 4) Network reliability and Public Safety.
“The FCC’s first item sets expectations for notifying consumers prior to retiring copper lines so that customers do not suffer from service interruptions. This includes the increasing incidents of “de facto” retirement of copper lines reported in the media where providers have let lines degrade from neglect, endangering and even stranding consumers who rely on those lines. We hope the Commission will act swiftly on the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish clear metrics of network comparability. These metrics are essential to provide consumers certainty that their provider's network transition is not a downgrade in quality, reliability, and functionality.
“The FCC’s second item on 9-1-1 communications mandates that carriers must offer 8 hours of backup power to all consumers as a baseline. Legacy networks were powered through the copper lines and functioned even in power outages, providing consumers with reliable access to public safety during emergency situations. While the mandate to offer backup power availability is critical, this item falls short of expectations in two ways.
"First, the required 8 hours of backup power is much shorter than typical duration of outages seen in recent natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Second, the burden of paying for the backup power falls solely on consumers, making it difficult for low income consumers to have basic communications during emergencies. We hope the Commission continues to monitor how its rules affect consumer access to backup power and communication with public safety officials during emergencies and natural disasters, and move quickly to address problems as they arise.
“As the FCC management of the tech transitions continue, we must not be complacent with these actions. The FCC’s Network Compact values can sometimes be taken for granted because they have been well protected for so many decades in the Communications Act. Americans must continue to demand that the FCC ensures this transition is an upgrade for all and maintains these protections for every household.”
A media handout on the tech transition agenda items is available here.