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FCC: Landlines Will Only Exist Another 5-10 Years, AT&T Wants Out by 2020

The general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission predicts your landline will stop working within the next ten years, abandoned by companies like AT&T and Verizon in favor of wireless service in rural America or fiber (if you are lucky) in the cities.

Phillip "Did you know your landline will be dead within ten years?" Dampier

Phillip “Did you know your landline will be dead within ten years?” Dampier

Sean Lev, the FCC’s general counsel, said in a blog post that “we should do everything we can to speed the way while protecting consumers, competition, and public safety.”

But the FCC seems to be abdicating its responsibility to do exactly that by singing the same song some of America’s largest phone companies have hummed since they decided to get out of the copper landline business for fun and profit.

Traditional boring telephone service is regulated as a utility — a guaranteed-to-be-available service for any American who wants it. Hundreds of millions of Americans do, especially in rural areas where America’s cell phone love affair is tempered by dreadful reception, especially in mountainous areas. Oh, and the nearest cable company is ten miles away.

AT&T and Verizon — two of America’s direct descendants of the Bell System, just don’t want to pay to keep up a network most of urban America doesn’t seem to want or need anymore. In addition to a dwindling customer base, providing a regulated legacy service means having to answer to unions and government-types who make sure employees are fairly compensated and customers are given reasonable service at a fair price. The alternatives on offer from AT&T and Verizon carry no such regulatory (or union) baggage. Prices can change at will and customers have no guarantee they will receive service or have someone to complain to if that service is sub-standard.

While in the past regulators have taken the lead to make sure telephone companies meet their obligations, the new FCC seems to spend most of its time observing the business agendas of the companies themselves.

Lev implied to the Associated Press the FCC is not exactly leading the parade on the future of landlines. He seems more comfortable trying to analyze the intentions of AT&T and Verizon’s executives:

Most phone companies aren’t set to retire their landline equipment immediately. The equipment has been bought and paid for, and there’s no real incentive to shut down a working network. He thinks phone companies will continue to use landlines for five to 10 years, suggesting that regulators have some time to figure out how to tackle the issue.

Lev

Lev

AT&T is more direct: It wants to switch off all of its landline service, everywhere, by 2020. Customers will be given a choice of wireless or U-verse in urban areas and only wireless in rural ones. Where U-verse doesn’t serve, AT&T DSL customers will be in the same boat as Verizon customers on Fire Island: pick an expensive wireless data plan, satellite fraudband, or go without.

Verizon prefers a “gradual phase-out” according to Tom Maguire, Verizon’s senior vice president of operations support.

Verizon claims it has no plans to shut down working service for customers, but it does not want to spend millions to continue to support infrastructure fewer customers actually use. That means watching the gradual deterioration of Verizon’s copper-based facilities, kept in service until they inevitably fail, at which point Verizon will offer to “restore service” with its Voice Link wireless product instead.

For voice calls, that may suffice for some, especially those comfortable relying on cell technology already. But at a time when the United States is already struggling with a rural broadband problem, abandoning millions of rural DSL customers only makes rural broadband an even bigger challenge. The wireless alternative is too variable in reception quality, too expensive, and too usage capped.

Currently there are 17 comments on this Article:

  1. SouthPaw says:

    Here is an idea.
    How about you can’t cut the copper without installing fiber.

    • Matt Norris says:

      Let me help all of you:

      LTE data speeds, with a 100% complete infrastructure, make fiber completely pointless. Since most of you appear to not be looking at an obvious trend in both high-speed internet and wireless voice/data services, let me refresh your memory:

      Once upon a time, a mobile phone didn’t have data and talk time was restricted by price and minute caps. Then minute caps started to increase, and price started to decrease. Overage fees remained absurdly high, except for the fact that minute plans got absurdly cheap and you basically had to be on a phone call for 24 hours a day to have any prayer of hitting overage.

      Now, data plans from AT&T have unlimited talk/text built in. There is no voice limit to hit. You know those data caps everyone complains about?

      AT&T’s largest data plan was, only 18-24 months ago, about 2gb or 3gb for a single device. Want to know what it’s at now? 50gb for smartphone, and over 100gb for an air-card or WiFi router that runs on LTE.

      Those high-cap plans are absurdly expensive and debuted within the last 12 months or so. You are going to find a lot of single-line iPhone accounts with 50gb data plans.

      And you didn’t find a lot of phones in 2001 with unlimited voice plans. I won’t even get in to the fact that your gripes about “fiber should replace copper” are borderline pointless due to the fact that LTE is essentially going to end up being one glorified Wi-Fi network (Federally mandated to be universal between all carriers) that was showing 35mbps/12mbps transfer rates in Kansas City in 2013.

      These transfer rates are complete overkill for a smartphone, but they aren’t overkill for your house, and putting LTE service with a “theoretical” top speed of 1gbps all over the place means no more problems for rural customers, no more wired infrastructure to get screwed up by either natural events, vandalism, or an array of other things that make a wired infrastructure vulnerable.

      Fiber to the towers (which AT&T calls “fiber backhaul” to mask the obvious fact that you are watching a gigantic WiFi network go into service), no more wires to houses, huge benefits to the environment, huge streamlining of service delivery.

      It also is being built from essentially scratch (other than the fiber, which has been around for decades and should tell you whether or not somebody just came up with this idea a decade ago of the top of their head). It isn’t going to be perfect, at the onset.

      • Mitch says:

        You seem to have a good understanding … Any advice on how a rural person can watch Netflix and play Xbox live just like someone can in an urban area ? Also I already have satellite Internet and its out of the question
        Thanks, Mitch

        • Matt Norris says:

          Netflix is a “no” because of data caps that still exist. 4G non-LTE will run it, but it would be good for a few movies a month at most people’s idea of affordable data prices, but if somebody is offering LTE data in your area, then XBox is a “maybe”, with the caveat being that LTE latency times aren’t always friendly for only first person shooter games like Halo or call of Duty.

          To be honest, you are one of the individuals in the unfortunate situation that LTE is meant to correct. Latency times on LTE will get better, and it will eventually deliver home service at parody with what most cable subscribers see today. It may be a matter of waiting, which a lot of folks are tired of doing.

          • Ben says:

            What about privacy, if there is no land lines, there is no secured lines as people are able with the right equipment to listen in on any wireless line?

  2. BobInPeoria says:

    SouthPaw —- Totally agree! If fiber is the future, why won’t Verizon replace copper with fiber?

    Small, rural Telco’s in the Midwest are steadily replacing copper with fiber. You don’t hear about it in the national media. So, the obvious question is: Why are these rural Telco’s replacing copper w/fiber, but Verizon(and AT&T) are NOT doing that ?

    • This is the key. Rural and co-op telcos have been quietly replacing their copper infrastructure with fiber for years. On it they sell not only phone service, but also broadband and television. No, they are not selling gigabit Internet in most of these communities, but they are reinvesting and upgrading their networks to serve customers.

      What is different about AT&T and Verizon vs. these companies (or Windstream, Frontier, FairPoint, or CenturyLink for that matter). In a word: WIRELESS.

      AT&T and Verizon answer to Wall Street, which sees enormous profits in wireless (and converting landline customers to wireless opens up new revenue opportunities there as well). Both of these phone companies have diverted investments that should have gone towards fiber upgrades into wireless instead.

      Copper networks are falling apart in many areas and the cost to replace them vs. the potential revenue earned after those replacements is still not enough to match the profits these companies gouge from consumers on the wireless side. So money follows money.

      If you are Frontier or a small co-op telco, you don’t worry about wireless revenue because you have no wireless network. You invest in the only network you have. Frontier thinks it will live or die on providing broadband in areas where cable companies don’t serve or serve badly. They are probably right. But Frontier will not spend the money on big fiber upgrades because they do not face fiber competition in their markets and would be beaten up on the Street for spending money they did not have to.

      Co-ops answer to their member-owners. So if enough want fiber, they will get fiber.

      The heart of this problem is the short-term hunger for revenue and profits on Wall Street. That, and the compensation packages which reward executives that meet the needs of Wall Street, force companies into very short term thinking. They don’t think five years out, they think the next 1-4 quarters out. In short, spending on upgrades is bad, cost-cutting is good, price hikes are good, customer losses are bad.

      That is why, in a barely competitive market, companies do as little as they can to maintain or improve services — enough not to lose too many customers but not too much to draw negative attention from Wall Street analysts who can cause investors to sell and scatter.

      The fly in the ointment to the “free market” this represents are regulators, who can compel companies to provide certain levels of service. Wall Street hates regulators and both of these phone companies have spent millions trying to eliminate that check and balance system. A switch to unregulated wireless or Voice over IP service means they can walk away from decades of oversight and universal service (at least unless or until the FCC changes the rules and seeks to regulate wireless/digital phone services).

      Watching the New York State PSC scrutinize Verizon right down to copper and fiber pair counts to make sure the company isn’t pulling a fast one is an amazing thing after witnessing the rubber stamping “whatever you want AT&T” regulation in place in states like Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, etc. You get what you vote for.

      • Steevo says:

        Philip,

        For those wireline companies to stay in business here is what they must do:

        1. Realize that in past years phone was a public utility, everyone had one.

        2. Realize internet is the new version of the same function. When you move in to a new place your first task is to turn on electricity, then water, then internet.

        3. If they would be prepared for this starting now they can remain relevant. What they must do is make absolutely sure that all the addresses they pass with their infrastructure must be able to receive a reliable 50 meg internet connection, they must bond pairs, put in fiber, etc.

        4. They can expect to be turned on and off like phone was in past years and will be able to make money. In fact as regulated utilities they will be guaranteed an ROI like phone companies were.

        5. They can expect internet to become a regulated service like phone was.

        If they don’t prepare for this they will lose their position as a regulated utility and will be stuck selling wireless, where even though the profits are hefty right now they have to scrabble (and pay commissions and large costs) for new customers, and the only customers available going forward will be poached from competitors.

        Prices and profits are declining and will continue to do so over time. Expect wireless to be much less lucrative going forward.

        Contrast that to being the internet connection that is already there, already reliable, and regulated. The obvious choice. Easy.

        I think being wireline internet providers is the future for them.

        We are not there now, my ATT DSL can only provide about a 2.5 meg line. I have to struggle and fight with them over it. Employees have admitted they could easily bond pairs and provide much better service, but they *won’t*. Why? “It’d be a different service”. They could feed my circuit from a nearby VRAD but they *won’t*.

        A 50 meg line should be required and they should just do what it takes. So few people have home phones now it shouldn’t be a problem bonding three pairs for each customer.

        If the telcos don’t do all this they will be irrelevant sooner rather than later. Who wold deal with them if there were any other choice? No one.

  3. James Cieloha says:

    Every AT&T customer should be ashamed of both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and every Verizon customer should be ashamed of both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon for their decision to abandoned it’s entire rural landline operations very severely.

    I feel that both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon are trying to be way too big being like the Wal-Mart’s, the Marlboro’s, the Joe Camel’s, the Paramount Pictures with the movie theater chain of the 1940’s, the Morris Levy’s when he was part of Roulette Records, the Clive Davis’s when he was at Columbia Records in the 1970′s, the Neil Bogart’s of Casablanca Records fame of the 1970′s disco era, the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s, the David Smith (one of the Smith brothers from Sinclair Broadcast Group), the Perry Sock and the Nexstar Broadcasting Group, the Harry Pappas as part of the Pappas Telecasting Companies, the Bernard Madoff’s, the Enron’s, the Worldcom’s, the Adelphia’s, the Tyco’s, the Martha Stewart’s, the Jill Kelley’s, the Orie sister’s, and the Jesse Jackson Jr’s, of the 2000′s by letting greed get out of control so all of the head employees and bosses at AT&T and Verizon to be able to enjoy carefree lavishly spending to support carefree lavishly lifestyles with luxurious homes, luxurious jets, luxurious cars, luxurious furs, luxurious jewelry, join luxurious clubs, go to luxurious hotels, go to luxurious casinos to do gambling, go to horse races, throw luxurious parties, and have other luxurious items just to make them very happy then trying and willingness to improve the quality of all of their employees and making the customers very happy as well.

    I hope and I wish that AT&T and Verizon goes out of business for their unwillingness to care for their customers and their employees. I feel that both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon are trying to bribe like the General Tire/RKO General of the 1960′s and 1970′s by not being very honest of not only the customers and also on themselves.

    I hope and I wish that the FCC would allow all the telephone providers with internet broadband that has never ever impose usage caps to the internet broadband customers be allowed to purchase and acquired customers from AT&T and Verizon and are being required to make a real big concession that they would promised not to have any difficulties with all the internet broadband providers competitors and their customers by not imposing usage caps and meters and raising prices for them to put them out of business sooner and without any interference for 12 whole years straight.

    I feel that both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon are way too big being way too busy trying to act like the Baauer’s, the PSY’s, the Carly Rae Jepsen’s, the Nicole Westbrook’s, the Rebecca Black’s, the Double Take’s, and the Guns N Roses Axl Rose as well as trying to be the Conrad Murray’s, the Jerry Sandusky’s as the assaulters, the Jodi Arias’s, the Casey Anthony’s, the Charles Starkweather’s, the Charles Manson’s, the Lyle and Erik Menendez’s, the O. J. Simpson’s, the Scott Peterson’s, and the Drew Peterson’s as the greedy murderers, the Amanda Bynes’s and the Lindsay Lohan’s as the drunk and the drug abusers, the Rodney Dangerfield’s, the John Belushi’s, and the Chris Farley’s as the comedians, the Gordon Gekko’s, the Victoria Grayson’s, the Victor Newman’s/the Jack Abbott’s, the J. R. Ewing’s/the Cliff Barnes’s, the Charles Montgomery Burn’s/the Mayor Quimby’s, the Homer and Bart Simpson’s, the Peter Griffin’s, the Mickey Mouse’s/the Minnie Mouse’s, the Bugs Bunny’s/the Daffy Duck’s/the Porky Pig’s, the Garfield cat’s, the Cookie Monster’s, the Miss Piggy’s, and the Pillsbury Doughboy’s, of the television, telephone and internet broadband industry of preferring to let customer service suffer to rake in more money for themselves.

    I feel both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon are trying to turn into the 1919 Chicago White Sox’s baseball team and the Southern Methodist University football team of the 1980′s to force all the customers to accept whether or not the customers will be willing to deal with AT&T’s and Verizon’s customer service and making them deal with just getting wireless phone and internet service in the very rural areas by the use of extortion. I urge all the AT&T customers to boycott both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and all the Verizon customers to boycott both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon right now for making all the customers suffer from having to deal with poor service for both of their telephone and internet broadband needs and abandoning wireline landline service to the very rural areas in a big huge ugly game of baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw baw chicken in the future of the telephone industry.

    Wireline phone and internet is useful for web users to look at for news and weather reports as well as for important emergencies. I feel that all of the fat cat politicians and the fat cat phone and internet providers want to see wireline service to go away and force all of the wireline customers to pay up a lot more money for the right to keep phone and internet service so all of the fat cat politicians and the fat phone and internet providers can have carefree lavish spending to fully support their endless greedy lavish lifestyles for their own political gain by way of block booking and extortion is so very shameful and so very disgraceful in my own personal opinion and theory. I feel that all of the fat cat phone and internet providers and the fat cat politicians have never learned from various scandals happening in the past. Have those fat cat phone and internet providers and fat cat politicians learned from the Paramount Pictures practice of block booking with theatrical theatres of the 1940’s, No, the General Tire/RKO General broadcasting license scandal of the 1960’s and the 1970’s, No, the Southern Methodist University football team scandal of the 1980’s, No. These are examples of what I feel that all of the fat cat phone and internet providers and the fat cat politicians are trying to do to attack wireline phone and internet service in the United States Of America in a few years into the future.

    I’m commented in response to all AT&T and Verizon customers who are very sick of all the ways AT&T and Verizon treats both their customers and their employees and to see all of them being force to suffer with AT&T and Verizon and have fears to see AT&T and Verizon service deteriorate very much rapidly in a heartbeat in the very rural areas.

    I gracefully would support all community internet broadband providers and would want all of them to be able to be allowed to provide the fastest internet speeds of up to 1GB very fairly by the communities being allowed to build their own fiber optics cable lines without interference from both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon with the fact that AT&T and Verizon is already providing very limited internet broadband service at way less broadband speeds to all of their own customers and of their decision to get rid of their wireline landline services in very rural areas.

    I hope and I wish that both Randall Stephenson and AT&T and both Lowell McAdam and Fran Shammo and Verizon is willing to allow all the communites to build out their own fiber optic cable networks for their superior mega fast internet broadband service that beats out AT&T’s and Verizon’s internet service and speeds to all of their own customers in very rural areas.

    Time and time again and again wireline service works better than wireless service when phone and internet traffic gets very heavy on the wireless network when big disasters happen such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and planes crashes such as the one near San Francisco International Airport on Saturday where users are on the phone and internet creating traffic jams on the wireless network all at the same time.

    I would like to see locally based phone and internet providers that is a locally cooperative or not that serve customers in the community phone exchanges that are closer to the rural community phone exchanges that are presently serve by AT&T and/or Verizon be allowed to those over those community phone exchanges from AT&T and Verizon at little or no cost and can be allowed to apply for loans that allows those community phone exchanges being taken over from AT&T and Verizon be allowed to fully update and upgrade those community phone exchanges with fiber optic cable networks to fully improve phone and internet service as well as also being able to fully bring cable television service to the customers from those phone lines.

    I could and would tolerate Glen Post and his CenturyLink taking over all the phone exchanges in California, Nevada, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and all the exchanges in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan from AT&T, and in California, Texas, Florida, Knotts Island, North Carolina, and Virginia from Verizon that are closer to the community phone exchanges serve by CenturyLink, I could and would tolerate Jeffery Gardner and his Windstream taking over all the exchanges in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Ohio from AT&T that are closer to the community phone exchanges serve by Windstream, and I could and would tolerate Maggie Wilderotter and her Frontier taking over all the phone exchanges in Washington, District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts from Verizon, and in Connecticut from AT&T that are closer to the community phone exchanges serve by Frontier.

    There, I said what I think about AT&T and Verizon abandoning wireline service in rural areas.

  4. Ralph says:

    “The general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission predicts your landline will stop working within the next ten years, abandoned by companies like AT&T and Verizon in favor of wireless service in rural America or fiber (if you are lucky) in the cities….”

    Frontier is at least 10 years behind everyone else when it comes to DSL and has problems maintaining even 1Mb “Highspeed Internet” in my area of WV. I’d guess that it’ll be 20 to 30 years (if ever) before they abandon the copper. Fiber is only a dream for most rural customers in Frontier territory.

  5. txpatriot says:

    When the ILECs shut down their copper networks, consumers won’t be the only ones impacted.

    Competitive telco providers called “CLECs” also rely on those legacy copper networks. Incumbent telcos are not required to lease fiber or radio space to their competitors, so they have an incentive to drive their customers to those technologies.

    By decommissioning their copper networks, the incumbents will also be choking off the oxygen needed by their competitors.

  6. <AT&T is more direct: It wants to switch off all of its landline service, everywhere, by <2020. Customers will be given a choice of wireless or U-verse in urban areas and only <wireless in rural ones. Where U-verse doesn’t serve, AT&T DSL customers will be in <the same boat as Verizon customers on Fire Island: pick an expensive wireless data <plan, satellite fraudband, or go without.

    Excuse me, But u-verse is the landline. AT&T is using the eact same wire that is and has been in place for decades.

    The only difference is AT&T is drawing a line in sand of who is attached to the U-verse technology in some box in the neighborhood and who is not.

  7. Hugh Wardlaw says:

    Voip may be nice. During a power outage will it work? It probably won’t during a disaster when power is lost. I haven’t seen a cell phone that can send or receive a fax. Many agencies require legal documents to be faxed. The fcc has not looked at all the potential pitfalls of going to cell and voip. Have the cell carriers committed to having at least 3 days of battery power for cell sites yet?

  8. David says:

    It is one thing if shutting down the traditional telephone network will bring improved services. But that is not the case. Quite contrary to popular belief, many of the so called advanced features provided by VOIP services such as Uverse or FIOS can also be supported by traditional switches – namely the Alcatel Lucent 5ESS and Nortel’s DMS type units. In fact, there are actually more features using the so called “antiquated” technology. For example, Uverse Voice DOES NOT offer Speed Calling 8 or 30, Ringmaster (distinctive ring), Call Return & Repeat Dialing (*69 & *66 respectively). While most will argue that their phone has a memory dial, the benefit of Speed Calling is that it can be used on any phone – including that old 554 wall set in the garage. Plus these codes can be used inconjunction with other features like 3 way calling, call forwarding, etc. Incidentally, the 554 is a ROTARY wall set and there are some people that still have these phones. At least Verizon’s Fios WILL work on old dial pulse lines. Also, an older telephone set will not be equipped with a display so having a return call feature like *69 is important. Once again, at least FIOS offers a form of this service. As for the so called 20 features included with the VOIP type services, some are nothing new, others are required by law. For example, *67 (which blocks the calling party’s name and number from appearing on the called numbers Caller ID unit) is mandatory by the FCC. And this is advertised as a feature. Even a basic phone line with no vertical service codes will have this. And speaking of the “star” codes, there are so many that can be assigned for useful purposes. Just look at the Vertical Service codes link on the North American Numbering Plan website (nanpa.com). When the above features are includes with Uverse, I’ll have a better opinion of the service

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