FCC unveils National Broadband Plan, calls for end to PSTN

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03/26/2010
The Federal Communications Commission on March 16 unveiled it's 300-page National Broadband Plan. The plan was originally due to be delivered to Congress by Feb. 17. I wrote about the impending POTS sunset back in January, and at the time, the big concern was over the time table for phasing out POTS and PSTN. The alarm industry depends on the proven ability of POTS to reliably deliver communications services for alarm signal transmission. IP is new and patchy, due to idiosyncrasies like throttling and packet dropping. Understandably, the industry does not feel good about entrusting its life safety protection duties to what is really still a young technology. Not to mention one that has increased costs over tried-and-true POTS. According to a recent release from ESA, the deadline for a sunset of the old infrastructure is still up in the air, but the transition will be addressed over the next decade. ESA assures industry folks that it will be there, along with the Alarm Industry Communications Committee to work with the FCC in bringing about a workable solution. From the ESA release:
The plan calls for several actions over the next decade, including the transition from a circuit-switched telephone network to an IP-based network. Section 4.5 of the plan suggests the FCC start a proceeding on the transition that asks for comment on a number of questions, including whether the FCC should set a timeline for a transition. The Section concedes that such a transition will take “a number of years.”
Many in the industry to whom I spoke felt the time was now to begin moving away from POTS dependence. I wrote about a new solutions from IP Alarms and Honeywell earlier this year. And this pic snapped on the ISC West show floor by my editor, Sam, sure shows that many are ready to move away from POTS and IP and move toward radio. picture-2 From Section 4.5 of the Broadband Plan:
Increasingly, broadband is not a discrete, complementary communications service. Instead, it is a platform over which multiple IP-based services—including voice, data and video—converge. As this plan outlines, convergence in communications services and technologies creates extraordinary opportunities to improve American life and benefit consumers. At the same time, convergence has a significant impact on the legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), a system that has provided, and continues to provide, essential services to the American people. Convergence raises a number of critical issues. Consumers benefit from the options that broadband provides, such as Voice over Internet Protocol. But as customers leave the PSTN, the typical cost per line for Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) increases, given the high fixed costs of providing such service. Between 2003 and 2009, the average cost per line increased almost 20 percent. Regulations require certain carriers to maintain POTS—a requirement that is not sustainable—and lead to investments in assets that could be stranded. These regulations can have a number of unintended consequences, including siphoning investments away from new networks and services. The challenge for the country is to ensure that as IP-based services replace circuit-switched services, there is a smooth transition for Americans who use traditional phone service and for the businesses that provide it.
It's really not any wonder that AT&T is pushing for POTS requirements to be dropped. It gets more and more expensive to maintain that infrastructure that fewer and fewer people are using. In a January interview with me, Lance Dean, co-founder of 2GIG Technologies spelled it out pretty clearly: "There’s 700,000 lines going down a month. If you do the math, that’s 8 million a year. In a few more years there won’t be any more landlines." I've got emails out to folks at AICC and ESA for further comment and will continue to report on this story.

Comments

The industry may not feel good about "entrusting its life safety protection duties to what is really still a young technology", but it is not the industry that is driving the migration of alarm signaling to IP - it's the consumers.
AT&T could carry on providing POTS lines for the next 50 years, but it's irrelevant as consumers no longer want to pay for them.
If monitoring subscribers are not under contract and they decide the time is right to disconnect their POTS line, have no doubts about it, they will change monitoring companies if they do not get the right answers from their existing alarm company.
What many alarm dealers and monitoring companies do not realize is that there are companies providing IP monitoring services "behind the scenes" to subscribers that are locked into a contract with their existing alarm company. They provide a module that transmits data part way over IP to "iron out" the VoIP issues and then put the signal back onto a landline and into the monitoring facility via the regular POTS alarm receiver. The subscriber is happy because they pay a few bucks a month and get to use their Internet connection. The alarm company and monitoring center, though non the wiser, should be happy as they get to keep their subscriber.

[...] irrelevant as consumers no longer want to pay for them,” Tridad said in comment to a topical Security Systems News blog post. “If monitoring subscribers are not under contract and they decide the time is right to [...]