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AT&T's All-IP Tests Won't Answer Key Questions

Carol Wilson
2/28/2014
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AT&T's tests of all-IP wire centers in rural Alabama and suburban Florida, announced earlier today in an AT&T public policy blog and a Washington, D.C., press briefing, may show how consumers and emergency services will function without traditional switched voice. However, it may not reveal much about the competitive landscape.

The tests are in keeping with what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has asked for as it tries to pilot this network transition and determine how voice regulations should be eased or changed. (See FCC Sets IP Transformation Pilots.)

AT&T's (AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)) test will eliminate circuit-switched voice service in the affected wire centers, something AT&T says 70% of its customers in 22 states have already done, either by cutting the cord and going wireless or choosing to use voice over IP instead of traditional telephony. That shift in customer choice is one of the arguments AT&T is making for eliminating traditional voice switches and changing regulations that grew out of that era. (See FCC VoIP Ruling Bound to Disappoint Someone.)

The two areas in which AT&T will conduct its tests are hardly hotbeds of competition. Carbon Hill, Ala., is described as a relatively poor rural town of 2,000 and Delray Beach, Fla., is a suburb of 60,000, including many seniors. In Carbon Hill, about 40% of residents will be able to choose their replacement voice service -- either AT&T's U-verse broadband offering, which is VoIP, or a 4G home wireless service. Those outside the U-verse footprint, which is more than half, will only be able to get the wireless service. In addition, about 4% of residents won't have access to either, but AT&T thinks they'll have other voice options, and has pledged not to shut off service until they do. In Delray Beach, a substantial number of residents already have Comcast VoIP, and will have both AT&T voice options.

From this population, the FCC may be able to discern the impact on consumers, such as whether an in-home wireless option delivers the quality consumers need and whether essential services such as 911 continue to function as needed. It's not likely to determine, however, whether issues such as interconnection of competitive carriers will be impacted.

That's like why Incompas CEO Chip Pickering described AT&T's test as "narrow and very limited," and used a prepared statement to continue to push the point that wholesale access rules -- which allow competitors to connect to AT&T's network -- remain essential.

Granted, the FCC has to put consumer concerns first, but as we are learning where broadband service is concerned, the health of competition does impact consumers. Here's hoping the FCC takes what it can from these trials but doesn't stop there.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

Editor's note: The original version of this blog contained an inaccurate reference to Comptel, the equipment vendor. Chip Pickering is CEO of Comptel, the association of competitive carriers and is speaking for that organization.

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mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/4/2014 | 6:12:56 PM
For 911 calls during a power outage, POTS lines are hard to beat
Also, for all the advantages of fiber and IP-based communications, plain old telephone lines have the unique ability to stay on even when the power is out.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/01/surprise-your-high-tech-home-phone-system-could-go-dead-in-an-emergency/index.htm

It seems a bit short-sighted to slowly kill off all the POTS lines without creating some kind of emergency backup system that is similarly robust in adverse conditions (which is when you'd really need emergency communications).
mhhf1ve
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mhhf1ve,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/3/2014 | 6:58:08 PM
Re: Nice, Carol
Besides the competitive impact, some folks have raised legitimate safety concerns -- not just for 911 calls, but for FAA air traffic controllers who could be more open to IP-based attacks. I've also heard that IP-based communications have a longer inherent latency, which can be intolerable in some applications.
Kevin Mitchell
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Kevin Mitchell,
User Rank: Lightning
3/3/2014 | 12:20:43 PM
The role of the cloud in PSTN sunset
Here's my read on some of the interesting parts of the filing.

AT&T's All-IP Transition and the PSTN Sunset


AT&T will build a next gen voice network, but not every provider can and should do that.
kq4ym
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kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/3/2014 | 11:12:42 AM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
It is interesting how they chose a rural and urban market to test. Other than some inconveniece to customer, and maybe some increased costs there probably won't be much in the way of complaints. 911 is presumably still going to be working for non-subscribed devices as mandated by law do even an old cell phone or with a working battery can get to 911. But, what about those twisted pair landline phones? What happens if there's no wires anymore.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/3/2014 | 4:37:09 AM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
@daniel: It's particularly difficult for SMB owners who operate from home, because then you're actually getting telemarketing calls at home, but it's a different set of legalities because it's a "business" line.

(I remember when I sat in on a job interview/training for a B2B telemarketing company many years ago; the employee I was shadowing must have had some bad leads because he wound up making multiple calls to people who clearly had home business lines and were very surprised and annoyed to be getting sales calls.)
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/2/2014 | 9:22:23 AM
Nice, Carol
THANK YOU Carol. I think you're the only person writing about this that has discussed the competitive impact of this. Most news outlets gush a bit over how the "IP transistion" heralds a modern age, ignoring how it's going to be the end of the line for a lot of currently reliable DSL lines that AT&T will refuse to upgrade.

That's going to leave less competitive options for a lot of users, create a stronger cable monopoly for fixed-line broadband in many markets, and potentially reduce competition at a time we profess to be dedicated to improving it.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/1/2014 | 3:09:53 PM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
@Joe Stanganelli, that's an interesting insight. I think that in the past VoIP operators did some cowboy things because the market was so new. Some unscrupulous operators even took it to themselves to junk fax people!

That's why I'm not overly surprised to hear that story about telemarketing. Some in the industry just overlook the regulations until there is a crackdown. 
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/1/2014 | 1:01:59 PM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
Carol,

Eliminating Circuit Switch Voice....from what point does the elimination start?  I remember BellSouth's first "All Fiber CO" and visited it.  They had no copper that left the facility and used a combination of DLCs and FTTC ONUs to deliver service.  They used DS3 inside the office to interwork devices and had a D4 bank in place so they could test special services.

Does an All-IP CO have an IP Voice Gateway for POTS - much like an old Coppercom or Jetstream device?  Is the IP interworking at a home gateway?  Does the consumer now use an IP Phone? Could an AT&T wireless customer get UMA in such a location?

Before we make bold statements about what will and won't go wrong, can we be 100% clear on what is meant.  For example, how many Class 4 Circuit Switches are out there?  Does that count as VoIP from a DNC standpoint?  I would expect that a transition to VoIP would go throught LNP of my existing number and I would get the same DNC capability I have today.

seven

 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/28/2014 | 11:33:47 PM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
@Carol: Wow.  That would be like calling the cable company when the cable's out and the svc. rep. tells you, "Don't you have a book?"

"Yes, but that's not the point!  I WANT TO SEE THE KARDASHIANS!"
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/28/2014 | 11:32:20 PM
Re: Tracking the Right Issues?
@Tom: I think it depends on the provider too.  On one VOIP line, I almost never (if ever) get telemarketing calls.  A few years back, when I did a trial of another provider's VOIP service, I got flooded w/ telemarketing calls INSTANTLY -- despite immediately registering for DNC.
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