Wheeler Circulates Tech Transition Proposals
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has circulated a series of proposals to protect "consumers, competition, and public safety" as communications transitions to an all-IP world, including requiring cable operators to provide backup power options for customers with IP phone service.
The proposal also deals with how copper networks are retired and consumers continue to receive the services they need afterwards.
They include requiring cable operators to give customers the option of buying backup power (up to eight hours) so they can use home phone service during power outages. The copper phone nets being transitioned away from historically worked even when power was out.
Within three years, cable operators would be required to provide the option of purchasing up to 24 hours of backup power.
The rules would also "require providers to inform both current and new customers about service limitations during electric outages and the steps they can take to address those risks through backup power, including how to keep their service operational during a multi-day power outage."
Why charge consumers for the backup power?
A senior FCC official speaking on background said that the batteries were going to be paid for somewhere along the line, either by the consumers up front or as part of the install price if that had to include battery backup. Mandating it would be a perverse incentive not to replace landline phone service and run counter to the FCC's objective of preserving resiliency.
He said he had seen options from $40 to $100 for batteries, so the marketplace would supply sufficient pressure to insure backup power remains reasonably priced. He said the FCC would watch that closely but allow providers to recover their costs.
“We appreciate the Chairman's recognition that the decision whether to purchase battery backup capability is one that should be made by individual consumers, not mandated by the federal government," said the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in a statement.
The proposals are technology neutral, applying to fixed wireless, fiber optic, coax and telephony over power lines, said a senior FCC official.
The FCC is still looking at the special access (business services) market, but the proposal would require that replacement special access and wholesale voice be offered at rates, terms and conditions reasonably comparable to the last mile deals offered by the current copper facilities. But that would be a temporary fix until the separate special access proceeding is completed.
Last year, the FCC initiated a proceeding to collect data and conduct IP transition tests to allow it to evaluate the impact of that technology transition on the public and back in November a divided FCC voted to establish some IP transition ground rules, including insuring access to networks and key services like 911.
In a separate report and order, the FCC is also proposing to:
"Protect consumers as copper networks are replaced by next-generation networks
• Require that consumers be notified of plans to retire copper networks. Notice would be required approximately six months in advance for non-residential customers and three months in advance for residential customers.
• Define “retirement” in such a way to prevent retirement of networks by neglect (sometimes referred to as “de facto” retirement)
• Require notice to interconnecting carriers for retirement of all parts of the copper network that are critical to providing their customers with service
• Retain carrier flexibility to retire copper networks in favor of newer facilities without prior Commission approval – as long as no service is discontinued, reduced, or impaired
“Preserve Competitive Choices
Competitive providers often combine their own facilities with the last-mile services of incumbent providers to reach small and medium-sized businesses and institutions, including schools, libraries, health care facilities, and government offices. However, competitive carriers and the customers that depend on them face uncertainty as incumbent carriers prepare to stop offering some of these services. To preserve competition in the enterprise market, the draft rules being circulated by the Chairman would:
• Require that replacement services be offered to competitive providers at rates, terms and conditions that are reasonably comparable to those of the legacy services. This would be an interim measure, pending the completion of the FCC’s special access proceeding which is examining these issues more broadly.
• Clarify that a carrier that plans to discontinue a service that has only carrier customers must still follow the statutory process for discontinuance if the action would negatively impact retail users served by those carrier customers. While a carrier’s discontinuation of a wholesale service may not always discontinue service to retail end users, the carrier still must undertake a meaningful evaluation to determine whether the statutory discontinuance process is triggered.
“Evaluate Whether New Services Will Meet Consumer Needs
Section 214 of the Communications Act requires that carriers receive FCC approval before they discontinue, reduce or impair a service. However, the FCC has never codified the criteria used to evaluate and compare replacement and legacy services. The item tentatively concludes that both consumers and industry would be served by clarifying these standards, and seeks comment on criteria which include:
• Support for 911 services and call centers
• Network capacity and reliability
• Quality of both voice service and Internet access
• Interoperability with devices and services, such as alarm services and medical monitoring
• Access for people with disabilities, including compatibility with assistive technologies
• Network security in any IP-supported network that is comparable to the legacy network
• Coverage throughout the service area, either by the substitute network or via service from other provider."
The proposals will be considered at the FCC's Aug. 6 meeting.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.