Power to the people and back it up too

24 January 2016 by Steve Blum
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Consumer groups are asking the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its new rule that requires telephone companies to sell back up batteries to customers when an outside power source is required. Companies should give subscribers batteries, the groups say.

The core issue is whether carriers will be required to pay for backup batteries at users’ homes to make sure that phone service remains available during a power outage. Old style phone service – copper – was self powered and remained operational during power failures. VoIP and fiber-based systems need back up power, though.

So far, the California Public Utilities Commission has mostly gone along with what the FCC is doing, which is only requiring carriers to educate consumers about the need to buy back up batteries and info on how to do it. That was part of the Frontier settlement, for example.

Personally, I try to stay away from these issues – it’s about consumer advocacy and not about broadband deployment, which how I make my living. Arguably, putting additional requirements on carriers that want to upgrade infrastructure is counter-productive. Given the complexity/diversity of home networks, it would be very complicated at best for carriers to provide a solution that would eliminate the need for consumers to think, which is the real problem. Batteries are cheap and if it was just about money, it would be easy to solve. Also, mobile phones are already battery powered, which is one way to ensure back up/emergency capability, but to be fair that’s not a universal solution.