Goodbye PSTN, Verizon pushes flawed Voice Link service

Major carriers such as Verizon and AT&T want to be done with copper infrastructure so Verizon pushes pathetic replacement

Landline only homes dropped from 34.4% in the first half of 2005 to 12.9% in the first half of 2010. (Source: Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January-June 2010, Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, December 2010.)

It probably had to happen at some point in the future but now it looks like that time may be a lot closer for some areas. Yep, within the next few years the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that we all know and love will slowly vanish and be replaced by cellular networks.

Part of the drive for this phase-out is due to the cost of maintaining copper-based telephone infrastructure (and many argue that copper infrastructure hasn't been well-maintained for years anyway) while a cellular infrastructure is, in theory, more robust in the case of a disaster (at least if Cellular Service Providers are prepared for such eventualities with spare portable cell towers). I'd guess that from the viewpoint of the big telephone companies still supporting copper infrastructure cost savings far outweigh emergency preparedness in importance.

Bruce Kushnick, Chairman of Teletruth and Founder and Executive Director of New Networks Institute, which are both telecom and broadband customer advocacy groups, told me:

"... since 2000 the [telecom] companies defunded the utility networks and took the monies and spent it on a) going into long distance and b) overseas and c) on FiOS ... they are using the public funding to create a cable service and d) wireless build outs of the cell towers ... more than a decade ago we filed with the CWA about a report they put out about how the lines were deteriorating and not being maintained."

Kushnik pointed out that maintenance is also about 'quality of service' and most states have relaxed if not removed any quality of service obligations. Interestingly the NY state attorney general filed a petition over this matter with the state in April 2012 but then the Hurricane Sandy hit.

Kushnik also contends

AT&T pulled a massive bait and switch. The entire [U-verse] deployment is copper-to-the-home, fiber to the press release. The idea that that there is talk of 'shutting off the copper' then is simply a line in the sand. ... Why California and other states haven't been screaming about this is beyond me.

And Kushnik is absolutely right about the telcos trying to wriggle out of their copper infrastructure obligations: The damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to Verizon's network was enough for the company to try to accelerate their plans to switch customers to a new wireless network they're pushing heavily in some areas.

If Verizon gets its way Mantoloking, New Jersey (population 297) and Fire Island, New York (population 292) are the first two communities that will have to say goodbye to copper and along with that goodbye to faxes, alarm systems, medical alert systems, and modems. What will replace wireline service will be, if Verizon gets its way, Verizon's Voice Link, a wireless service which, amongst a list of serious deficiencies, can't reliably support E911 service. In fact, according to Teletruth:

Verizon terms of service [for Voice Link] have specific language to remove any liabilities if the E911 service doesn't work, even though Verizon claims that it is just like the wired E911 service.

As of writing if you should search for "voice link" on Verizon's site you'll find nothing. According to FierceTelecom "The Voice Link device is a 4-by-4 inch unit with a 4-inch antenna, installed on the premises by a technician. While it operates on commercial power, it has a 36-hour battery backup, using three rechargeable AAA batteries that can be replaced by the resident if needed." Along with the implied simplicity of installation goes simplicity of function; there's a long list of things Voice Link doesn't do, according to Teletruth and I recommend reading Kushnick's HuffPost blog posting that slices and dices Verizon's plans to abandon copper infrastructure and replace it with Voice Link. 

If the major carriers have their way we can expect to see the traditional copper-based infrastructure decay into ever-greater unreliability while cellular blossoms and remote communities get turned into comms deserts. It's time that we got back to seeing universal service as not just a nice idea but as something that's is crucial to having a safe, functional, and cohesive society.

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