Are landline utilities in a 'death spiral' as AT&T claims?
If AT&T has failed on its obligation to upgrade its utilities, why should we trust it at this point?
Communications wires go to almost every home, every office, every school and library in America. They are part of individual state utilities for the most part, and are run by local telephone companies. Whether in rural areas, low income areas, or elsewhere, the wiring is part of a network that is commonly known as the Public Switched Telephone Networks. These networks have been regulated by the Federal Communications Commission on the federal level and public utility commissions on the state and local levels. . .
Now, in a recent filing at the FCC, AT&T has stated that it wants to put to an end the public switched telephone networks system, to "transition" them out of service. AT&T is asking the FCC to set a firm deadline to "sunset" the PSTN. AT&T claims the "plain old telephone service," known in the industry as "POTS," and the legacy utilities are "diverting critically needed funds that could be used for broadband deployment."
As one author writes, "Ma Bell asked the FCC to eliminate regulatory requirements that it support a landline network and to provide a deadline for phasing it out. . . The (almost) one in five Americans relying exclusively on a plain old telephone line should prepare to kiss that wall jack goodbye as the major wireline telephone providers back away from that dying (and expensive) business."
The writer adds: "However, AT&T in its filing doesn't offer a way to bridge the gap for that 20 percent of Americans relying only on landlines, nor does it address what an all-IP future means for the 33 percent of Americans who have access to broadband but do not subscribe."
AT&T writes in its filing: "Congress's goal of universal access to broadband will not be met in a timely or efficient manner if providers are forced to continue to invest in and to maintain two networks." AT&T's entire point is that the landline utilities are from a `by-gone era' that they are forced to support, as opposed to the new, bright and shiny broadband networks. . .
Starting in the 1990's, in virtually every state laws were changed to pay for upgrades of the telecommunications utilities by raising rates and through tax incentives. The plan was to replace the existing copper wiring with fiber optics, but hardly any upgrades were ever made. By 2010, we estimate the companies will have collected about $320 billion - and counting.
My group, Teletruth, recently presented a report of ours as comments to the FCC. In it we outlined how 26 states controlled by AT&T, Verizon and Qwest not only failed to deploy high-speed fiber optic based broadband to homes, businesses, libraries, schools and hospitals in both rural and urban areas, rich or poor, but that the money they collected was never intended for a so-called "second network." Each state law specified that the funding was to upgrade the first network, the PSTN. Invariably, the old copper wiring was to be replaced - and in every state we examined, that didn't happen. . .
The fact is, AT&T and Verizon did not upgrade the utilities as promised in state after state. Almost all AT&T's services still go over copper wiring. Its broadband product, U-Verse, travels over old, not upgraded, copper lines.
. . . How many people would be impacted by any new deregulation? AT&T claims that only 20 percent of customers (seems like a lot of people to me) rely on plain old telephone service. It doesn't state the number of its own customers, referring instead to basic industry statistics. The fact is, since almost all AT&T's wireline products go over copper wiring, deregulation would impact almost all current and future AT&T broadband and telephone users.