Copper network killer rules could be back on the table

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Yanking out copper networks and replacing them with wireless service is one of the possible outcomes of the Federal Communication Commission’s reconsideration of the wireline service regulations it adopted last year. The swap can actually be done now, but only if the replacement meets certain service and quality standards.

In California, those standards are set by the California Public Utilities Commission. If the FCC rolls back its rules, it wouldn’t necessarily change that. But it could, and the CPUC might be weighing in on the FCC’s proceeding. According to a staff report prepared for commissioners

Should the FCC eliminate its 2016 standards, service providers could have the freedom to withdraw legacy services, including the attendant California nine basic voice service elements, and substitute a service that would fail to meet California’s standards. Customers might lose free access to 911, or service functionality or coverage, or access to relay service. If the substitute is wireless service, and the customer lives in a rural area, the customer could lose service altogether if the service provider has poor coverage in that area. Plus, wireless service is charged on a per-minute basis for both incoming and outgoing calls. Finally, some services, such as closed captioning and alarm systems, are dependent on copper wire; their continued viability may be threatened if the FCC does not maintain appropriate rules.

Last year, the commission went on record opposing an ultimately failed bill pushed by AT&T in the California legislature that would have done all of that. But it was by a narrow 3 to 2 vote, and only one of the commissioners who voted aye – Carla Peterman – is still on the commission.

The draft comments proposed by CPUC don’t seem likely to be controversial, though. Roughly translated, they amount to California sets its own, higher standards and we’d like to keep it that way. It’s the same position the commission has taken in the past. The harder decisions will come if the FCC tries to preempt state wireline replacement rules. Or if incumbent telcos make another run at rewriting Californian requirements.