In April of this year, the Federal Communications Commission began a wireline infrastructure proceeding designed to accelerate broadband deployment. The proceeding contains multiple proposals to remove barriers to broadband deployment and infrastructure, such as reforming pole attachment rates and preempting state and local laws. Buried within these proposals is a plan to eliminate “tech transitions” rules, which outline the responsibilities of phone carriers when they choose to retire copper networks or discontinue service.
According to the official Federal Communications Commission statics (current to August 30), Hurricane Harvey is having a predictably significant impact on telecommunications in the path of its devastation. We won’t actually know the final damage for awhile yet, but it appears that cell sites are pretty much gone in the counties where Harvey made landfall (but service is being steadily restored). Over 265,000 landline phones have been rendered inoperative. No one expects a communications network to come through an epic flood like Harvey without serious disruption. Indeed, from the very surface look of things, it appears that the communications network in the impact area is performing much better than it did during either Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment.” It proposes reforms to pole attachments, and begins examining preemption of local and state barriers to broadband deployment. Bundled among these smaller issues, however, is an effort to potentially reverse the FCC’s Technology Transitions Order adopted in 2015.
The Federal Communications Commission has been on a bit of a crusade under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership so far, taking any steps they can to reverse or undermine Wheeler-era accomplishments, no matter the pushback. While he’s had some success (and is poised to take yet another stab at limiting broadband competition this morning), there’s another item on today’s agenda. Wrapped (somewhat deceptively) in language justifying deregulation with promises of infrastructure deployment, and lumped in with other valuable proposals, is an effort to gut important consumer protections implemented to ensure a smooth path through arguably the largest digital infrastructure project on the horizon: the tech transitions.
The two Orders the FCC will vote on today probably have more impact on the future of our communications infrastructure than the Title II reclassification of broadband, but like many technical topics, it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.