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FCC's New Proposal Goes Beyond Open Internet, Focuses On Infrastructure

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a new proposal today to further improve the state of U.S. telecommunications services. Although this proposal is much more subtle than the radical Open Internet legislation that the Commission earlier drafted, it still targets important factors for upgrading telecommunications infrastructure.

Protect Emergency Calling While Promoting Consumer Choices

Wheeler clearly wants U.S. telecoms to completely move away from copper-based telecommunications infrastructure. Today, other technologies such as fiber optic cables can provide vastly greater performance, and they're also cheaper to maintain. One of the few problems with the technology is that it lacks the capability to carry electrical current through the system.

This might sound unimportant, but imagine that a major storm comes through your area, knocking out cell phone towers and causing power outages along its way. If you needed to call for help for some reason, with the current system in place you could pick up any standard phone and make the call. This is possible because the telephone lines provide electrical current to power your phone, and so long as the line is still connected, it will continue to work.

With fiber optic, there is no electrical current flowing through the line -- so no power, no phone. This realization prompted the first part of Wheeler's proposal: an emergency backup power service for just such emergencies.

This service would be optional for consumers, but it should be available from at least one service provider in an area. If the company providing the phone service is incapable of providing the service, it will be required to offer customers backup power options from third-party service providers.

Ideally, the FCC wants users to have several options for this service, and to encourage competition, all companies that provide this service would be required to fully disclose key information about its abilities and limitations.

Inform And Protect Consumers As Networks Change

The primary aspect of this section of the proposal is the retirement of old copper-based networks. Service providers have begun taking greater action to upgrade their networks following the Open Internet legislation, but the FCC wants to better regulate this, too.

First, users must be notified at least three months prior to the retirement of a copper-based network. This is an important measure, as consumers will likely experience frequent service outages while the networks are being replaced. Service providers are permitted to upgrade to newer facilities so long as it does not result in a fritz [The editor-in-chief is disgusted with that wording].

Wheeler took an additional step to define "retirement" as to prevent networks being retired from neglect. In other words, the companies cannot simply keep using a network until it breaks, and then fix it. They must act to improve the network before it reaches a point at which it is not capable of performing the job it was designated for. Sometimes companies will sign up more subscribers in an area than their network can handle, and as a result, users get slower network performance than they paid for. Technically, this would be considered a neglected network by the FCC, as it is incapable of performing the function it was meant for, and will mandate an upgrade.

Preserve Competitive Choices

Fortunately, despite the cost to upgrade the networks, consumers don't have to worry about their cost of service rising. The final tenet of this proposal requires carriers to maintain competitive choices for users. The rates, terms and conditions for service on the new networks must be comparable to those of the legacy networks.

This would be an interim measure, however, as the FCC is developing a new system for more broadly evaluating these factors.

Some carriers only sell network service to other carriers, and do not directly service end users. Wheeler made it a point to mention that if these carriers wish to discontinue their service rather than adhere to these new regulations, then they must follow the statutory process for discontinuance if the removal of said service will negatively impact retail users.

The Vote Is Coming

Although these regulations are less radical than the Open Internet legislation passed a few months ago, it still represents a rather firm push by the FCC to encourage ISPs to upgrade the telecommunications networks in the U.S. Some have already began upgrading their networks, but clearly Wheeler won't be satisfied until our nation can once again compete with the fastest networks in the world.

The vote over this proposal is scheduled for the FCC open meeting on August 6.

Follow Michael Justin Allen Sexton @LordLao74. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

Michael Justin Allen Sexton is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers hardware component news, specializing in CPUs and motherboards.
  • targetdrone
    Verizon FIOS already has a backup battery for the ONT. It lasts maybe 6 hours then your phone service is offline until power is restored. A lot of good that does after a hurricane or ice storm leaves a wide area without power for days.
    Reply
  • FinalHunter
    I work in a central office for a very large telecommunications company. We run generators to continuously provide service. Switching to fiber optics means there is no span power. The consumer would be completely responsible for powering their equipment. This can be done with commercial power, home generators, or backup batteries in equipment. Cell Towers have back up batteries and some automatic generators on reserve. It's not unrealistic to expect consumers to provide their own power on these devices. It has to be this way. When POTS becomes deregulated VOIP will soon be your only option.

    Other thoughts; if the copper is removed completely we will lose all payphones as they are span powered. You should own a cell phone.
    Reply
  • falchard
    O.O is Wheeler living in 1999? There is no need for an electric current anymore as telecoms and cable phone service providers have moved to a battery backup model for connecting service in case of a power outage in 2004. The only zones not affected are ones that could burn down in the cases of wildfires. Also everyone already uses Fiber Optic to the node. Its copper from the node to the street, but that copper only runs a few miles and has vastly more bandwidth than fiber.
    Also competitive pricing is not setting price controls. Thats the opposite of competitive. Competitive pricing are prices based on market conditions including competition. These proposals do not increase competition, thus no competitive pricing.
    Reply
  • rawoysters
    I work in a central office for a very large telecommunications company. We run generators to continuously provide service. Switching to fiber optics means there is no span power. The consumer would be completely responsible for powering their equipment. This can be done with commercial power, home generators, or backup batteries in equipment. Cell Towers have back up batteries and some automatic generators on reserve. It's not unrealistic to expect consumers to provide their own power on these devices. It has to be this way. When POTS becomes deregulated VOIP will soon be your only option.

    Other thoughts; if the copper is removed completely we will lose all payphones as they are span powered. You should own a cell phone.

    I tend to believe that a generator will be a priority piece of home equipment from here on out. You can't stop the future.
    Reply
  • anathema_forever
    Not sure you even need a generator, you just need a battery in your phone.
    Reply
  • SirGCal
    What about an 'emergency phone'? Something with an old-school crank power you charge it up and it works for 10 minutes with something as simple as turning a crank for power. Then you aren't limited to making an emergency call in the first few hours of a large storm or other outage. Need it, crank it.
    Reply
  • IInuyasha74
    16225832 said:
    I work in a central office for a very large telecommunications company. We run generators to continuously provide service. Switching to fiber optics means there is no span power. The consumer would be completely responsible for powering their equipment. This can be done with commercial power, home generators, or backup batteries in equipment. Cell Towers have back up batteries and some automatic generators on reserve. It's not unrealistic to expect consumers to provide their own power on these devices. It has to be this way. When POTS becomes deregulated VOIP will soon be your only option.

    Other thoughts; if the copper is removed completely we will lose all payphones as they are span powered. You should own a cell phone.

    Well the idea about the emergency power for the phones is to make it a new service. It might just be a line of battery products with setup and maintenance services. This part of the idea isn't really a bad deal for service providers, because if they don't want to provide the service, they can just point to a third-party that will. If anything, it is a new source of revenue.
    Reply
  • cats_Paw
    I just wish the government would stay away from everything except litigation and disputes.
    Everytime they come up with soemthing it goes horribly wrong, and someone at the top gets very rich at the expense of everyone else.

    It looks like they want to improved everything right? Here is what it actually means:

    First, ever company that has invested in copper based telecommunications will be screwed. Their investment is basically gonna evaporate.
    Second: Government will sign it, so it will also give "subsidies" to the companies that agree to replace the copper with fiber+backup.
    This subsidy, paid by the tax payer, will then we returned to the government in the form of taxation of the new services as well as donations for political campaigns.
    Every new company that wants to start and compete will also have no chance, as their costs will be higher (due to no subsidy), and since fiber is so expensive to expand, it will decrease the chances of competition, creating a government subsidized monopoly.

    This might sound far fetched for some of you, but its been done countless times, you only need to read a little bit of economical history to see it happen.

    Now you can understand why the guys at the photo are smiling: They want to pass a law that takes yor money, and gives it to them.
    Reply
  • jungleboogiemonster
    I just wish the government would stay away from everything except litigation and disputes.
    Everytime they come up with soemthing it goes horribly wrong, and someone at the top gets very rich at the expense of everyone else.

    It looks like they want to improved everything right? Here is what it actually means:

    First, ever company that has invested in copper based telecommunications will be screwed. Their investment is basically gonna evaporate.
    Second: Government will sign it, so it will also give "subsidies" to the companies that agree to replace the copper with fiber+backup.
    This subsidy, paid by the tax payer, will then we returned to the government in the form of taxation of the new services as well as donations for political campaigns.
    Every new company that wants to start and compete will also have no chance, as their costs will be higher (due to no subsidy), and since fiber is so expensive to expand, it will decrease the chances of competition, creating a government subsidized monopoly.

    This might sound far fetched for some of you, but its been done countless times, you only need to read a little bit of economical history to see it happen.

    Now you can understand why the guys at the photo are smiling: They want to pass a law that takes yor money, and gives it to them.

    While I have no problems with government regulation, you make some good points. I would like to add that it's highly unlikely any of the regulation Wheeler has implemented or is proposing would be needed if the residential communications markets had true competition. It's going to be very difficult to regulate the involved companies into providing sufficient services at affordable prices without it. However, the telecomms will adamantly fight the deregulation of their markets that would allow competition.
    Reply
  • Urzu1000
    This is a waste of time. The requirement to provide emergency power is just a political move added into the mess in order to prevent their opponents' strongest objection.

    It should be up to the consumer to make sure they're prepared for an emergency. If they switch out all our lines and replace them with fiber, I'll simply buy a battery pack. I've seen ~18,000 - 20,000mAh for around $100, and 16,000 for around $45.

    If you just use your cellphone for emergency calls during that time, how long could that last you? Weeks? Long enough.
    Reply