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Communications Government

The Dismantling of POTS: Bold Move Or Grave Error? 582

Posted by timothy
from the hard-to-cook-without-pots dept.
New submitter TheRealHocusLocus writes "The FCC is drafting rules to formalize the process of transition of 'last-mile' subscriber circuits to digital IP-based data streams. The move is lauded by AT&T Chairman Tom Wheeler who claims that significant resources are spent to maintain 'legacy' POTS service, though some 100 million still use it. POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure? Despite its analog limitations POTS switches have enforced the use of hard-coded local exchanges and equipment that will faithfully complete local calls even if its network connections are down. But do these IP phones deliver the same promise? For that matter, is any single local cell tower isolated from its parent network of use to anyone at all? I have had a difficult time finding answers to this question, and would love savvy Slashdot folks to weigh in: In a disaster that isolates the community from outside or partitions the country's connectivity — aside from local Plain Old Telephone Service, how many IP and cell phones would continue to function?"
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The Dismantling of POTS: Bold Move Or Grave Error?

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  • by flyneye (84093) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:30AM (#45560769) Homepage

    SH*T or get off the POTS.

    • Many thanks to the ACs who addressed my question on the autonomy of isolated cell towers, to wit:

      AC: A cell tower requires more infrastructure to actually complete a call than what is on the tower itself. The brains are located more centrally, like in the nearest CO. If a CO is taken out, it's bad for the area... and the local cell towers. If a CO is NOT taken down, it has all the infrastructure required in order to complete calls for its local area, which is what the OP stated -- even if that CO is segregated from every other one. COs are also more hardened than a tower can be and have more batteries and likely has a local generator. In the northeast blackout (2003), keeping cell towers powered required moving generators around to each tower in order to keep them running for a few more hours.

      AC: I would add that the systems running voice, data, and SMS are crazy complicated and can fail in many, many more ways than POTS. I managed the auth systems and data core for a cell service, and it seemed like a damn miracle the thing worked at all.

      So we have a cell Central Office layer that is regional and connectivity to it would be necessary for individual towers to complete calls. Let me extend the Q to ask: is there some standard practice that confines geographic placement of COs to a certain radius? How many of these (as opposed to mere towers) would we find on a map, if such a map was available? I presume that if a CO was isolated no one could roa

      • It's probably best to think in some other terms than radius.
        For one example, Tennessee has rather continuous types of bedrock in the middle and western parts of the state, leading right up to the New Madrid faultline in Missouri. If that lets go again, as it did historically, the west and middle parts of the state may see a widespread major earthquake, severe enough to do building damage hundreds of miles from the epicenter, even in Nashville and possibly even Crossville.

      • by quetwo (1203948)

        So we have a cell Central Office layer that is regional and connectivity to it would be necessary for individual towers to complete calls. Let me extend the Q to ask: is there some standard practice that confines geographic placement of COs to a certain radius? How many of these (as opposed to mere towers) would we find on a map, if such a map was available? I presume that if a CO was isolated no one could roam-in because the necessary central inter-carrier auth could not be completed, but what of existing subscribers? Would a CO facility, even if it was restarted from power down, retain enough subscriber data to bring its 'native' users in the local area to the point where that can complete calls to each other?

        Sorry about the Wheeler (FCC Chairman) booboo in the summary. Brain fart.

        If you want a map of all the COs -- they are here : http://www.dslreports.com/coinfo [dslreports.com] They are not placed by geographic radius, but by number of subscribers. Back in the day, a central office might serve an exchange or two (an exchange is the three digits after the area code in a phone number, for example 517-355, where 355 was the exchange). Of course some COs were larger and served multiple exchanges, some getting as large as a dozen and some were smaller and only handled a single exchange. Each excha

    • by wooferhound (546132) <tim@NoSPaM.wooferhound.com> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @01:23PM (#45561909) Homepage
      How am I going to send my FAXes now ?
  • by ruir (2709173)
    To dismantle a network that works so well, can keep work in a case of a disaster, power failure and civil unrest, and has proved itself so resilient over time. I guess it is a matter of money, and listen be able to listen to conversations in a central point, however from the point of a backup of service, and redundancy of operations this decision is a disaster.
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      They have been dismantling it by attrition and entropy for decades now. This just puts an official stake in its heart. Analog also seems to scare large companies these days...

      Do i agree this should be done? No, but its reality.

    • Hurricane Sandy destroyed the POTS network in much of the area that it hit. In fact it hasn't yet been fully rebuilt.

    • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@NOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @01:50PM (#45562067) Homepage

      I agree. However, I could agree to dismantling of POTS if they FIRST also lessen regulations on a swath of HAM for use by the public, and also legalize packet radio over CB, Family band, and other public use frequencies. We have the technology to radio for help in times of emergency -- Indeed HAM operators are sometimes on the scene in disasters before paramedics arrive. They already play a role in Earthquakes and other times when infrastructure is threatened. Lower the barrier for the common man to have greater ability to communicate first then I'll reconsider my stance on our keeping wired POTS going.

      We have the technology for radios to negotiate to noise free channels automatically -- hell, my cheap wifi router does this. The cellular system exists, but we need a similar mesh network for the common people. The EM spectrum belongs to We the People, give us back some damn air waves instead of charging us for all of them. It's the information age, yet outdated packet radio laws remain repressive to progress. Problem is that the government can't just throw a kill switch on public powered wireless devices -- Like they can on the Internet (and probably telephone too).

      It would be foolish to ignore that the government has an Internet Kill Switch, vast spying infrastructures, and a pro-censorship anti-discourse agenda whereby government agents actually plan to expose porn habits to silence dissent, while considering migrating any communication medium to IP based services. Furthermore -- The price of bits does not reflect the cost to distribute them. Cellular plans make a mockery of POTS long distance fees, and though it's never been cheeper to move bits the prices aren't going down nearly as fast as in foreign markets with actual competition. We need less regulation of the public sector and more regulation of the private sector's price fixed oligopoly before I'd ever advocate for tossing POTS out. Additionally: Unwarranted metadata collection is too powerful a tool already [kieranhealy.org] -- If Snoden can infiltrate PRISM, so can spies from enemy states.

      Beware: When those in power advocate change, the changes suggested never give those they have power over more freedom.

  • by thesandbender (911391) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:40AM (#45560835)
    1. If a hurricane/tornado/earthquake/what-have-you destroys your POTS infrastructure, it can take weeks or months to rebuild it. You can restore cell service in matter of hours with a mobile cell site.
    2. The same applies to your house. What good is a fixed, "simple" phone if your house isn't there any more?
    3. One of the biggest issues when a disaster strikes is locating people. POTS doesn't do anything to help with this.

    POTS was great but it's had it's time and we need to stop supporting it and move on newer technologies.
    • by Lisias (447563) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:56AM (#45560921) Homepage Journal

      Good points.

      On the other hand, cell phones are useless a few hours after a electrical blackout (as no one will be able to charge their phones), while thousand of POTS users (ha! I can't avoid smiling while typing it!) can be served using a big enough diesel generator.

      Hell broke havoc in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo em 2009 [wikipedia.org]. Cell phones were useless because *everybody* (and the neighbor's kitten) was trying to call someone by cellphone to call for help or simply tranquilize their relatives. The ones tha managed to do that were the ones with analog phone lines (as the analog phone operators can redirect their power supplies in order to keep the phone lines working).

      At that time, I already had switched my analog phone line to a VOIP one. My relatives lives far away, and I managed to call them 4 or 5 hours later, thanks to a very kind supermarket manager that borrowed me a power plug from the place (they have a diesel generator) to charge my pretty, advanced but useless smartbrick, I mean, smartphone.

      There's no single, easy and cheap answers to complex problems.

      • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:03AM (#45560969)

        On the other hand, cell phones are useless a few hours after a electrical blackout (as no one will be able to charge their phones)

        Cell phones can be *immediately* useless in an electrical blackout, because cell towers are grid dependent and often do not have battery backup. Some do, and the phone companies have mobile tower units they can send out to supplement towers that are out, but still, the cell network doesn't "just work" in a blackout the way POTS does.

        • by h4rr4r (612664) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @12:30PM (#45561513)

          Depends on the cause of the blackout.
          Here, our last days long blackout took out anything that needed wires. This is because it was an ice storm that took down wiring as well as trees which took out more wiring. POTS was not fully restored until after power was. This is because the power company had to replace poles before the Telco could string new wires.

      • by thesandbender (911391) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:05AM (#45560985)
        I'm actually speaking from experience. I live in NYC and last year during Sandy we ran into many of the problems you describe. Business and Individuals in areas that still had power were setting out extension cords and power strips for people to recharge their phones. Mobile generators can be used for the same purpose (and growing up in Texas it was my experience that most people in isolated rural areas either already have a portable generator or know someone close by that does).

        The situation you described in Rio and Sao Paulo is not unique to cell phones. POTs systems have a limit on how many calls they can support as well, the dreaded "all circuits are busy message" here in the states. The reason POTs lines are less susceptible to that now is that fewer people are using them so it doesn't happen as often. A common solution to this is to tell people just to text instead of making calls, that helps reduce the load on the cellular infrastructure.
        • A common solution to this is to tell people just to text instead of making calls, that helps reduce the load on the cellular infrastructure.

          Texting instead of talking will also reduce battery drain, so in an emergency, any phone with decent battery should last at least a few days.

          • by Lisias (447563)

            Text "HELP" to 911 with a thug breaking in on you home. Or while having a heart attack! ;-)

            Be my guest. Try it. =P

        • by Lisias (447563) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:22AM (#45561119) Homepage Journal

          As I said, there's no single, easy and cheap solution for complex problems. :-)

          Anyway, you missed the point. Sandy was a grain of dust compared to the 2009's Brazil blackout. Go to wikipedia and give a peek on the red painted map - the area is equivalent to 1/3 of the continual USA!

          No one managed to borrow a plug from nowhere, as nobody (except the one with diesel generators) had power to lend in a 100 miles radius!

          The problem you described ("all circuits are busy") can be overcome to restricting the service to communitarian and emergency services phones. How do you propose this can be done using cell phones?

          Take in consideration that I'm not advocating the "end of cell phones". I just arguing that cell phones, ALONE, will not be reliable in emergency situations. The really bad ones.

        • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @01:49PM (#45562057) Homepage

          I'm actually speaking from experience. I live in NYC and last year during Sandy we ran into many of the problems you describe. Business and Individuals in areas that still had power were setting out extension cords and power strips for people to recharge their phones. Mobile generators can be used for the same purpose (and growing up in Texas it was my experience that most people in isolated rural areas either already have a portable generator or know someone close by that does).

          The NYC solution is fine for dense urban areas, the Texas solution is fine for sparse rural areas. But the US consists of much more than huge metropolis's and spare rural areas. Neither solution works too well for suburban areas (where there often won't be a block with power for a considerable distance) or semi-rural and low density areas (where can often have apartment complexes where you can't have a generator). (I live in area which faces both problems.) With the except of sparse rural areas, the POTS has proven itself to be a fairly robust system. Any potential successor has a high bar to match, and relying on the kindness of random strangers or for 'everyone' to have a generator fails to meet that bar.

    • by john_uy (187459)

      This is what happened with typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. The local telcos were able to provide cellphone coverage through a mobile cell site. I'm sure all the electric poles are down and pretty much the last mile will be disconnected even though the exchange might still be working. Though electricity will be restored months from now, cellphone will be much convenient at the moment compared to restoring pots service which could take a very long time.

      I guess pots will work when there are major blackouts and not

    • by Miamicanes (730264) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @12:54PM (#45561667)

      The difference is that 25 years ago, it took a direct hit by a category 5 hurricane to make a visible dent in the phone network. There was no need to rebuild the phone network, because most of it never quit working in the first place. After Hurricane Andrew, people came home to neighborhoods so completely destroyed, they had to count streets and driveways to find the wreckage of their house... and more often than not, if they plugged a legacy-style phone into a phone jack, it worked. You can use Google to find stories from the Miami Herald about people who came home to a pile of rubble... and a very loud "off-hook" sound coming from a phone buried underneath.

      Compare that to now, where a goddamn slow & sloppy tropical storm (like Isaac) can take out U-verse and Comcast for at least half the day (Which is exactly what TS Isaac did, in northern Dade and southern Broward counties) just because a few distant neighborhoods (where their regional network operation centers are located) lost commercial power for a day, and they didn't have enough backup power to keep them running. It's DISGRACEFUL.

      As for #2, your house might not be "there" (in the sense of being habitable) any more, but if the storm is still in progress, working phone service is still a good thing to have.

    • by hey! (33014)

      This is basically a strawman argument. Nobody is discussing getting rid of cell phone service and and replacing it with POTS. The question with respect to disasters is whether POTS adds anything * vs. plowing the resources that would be used to maintain POTS into something else*.

      That last bit is important. It's obvious that having both POTS and cell coverage provides you with some level of redundancy that you don't get if you only have one or the other. POTS also provides enough power to run a basic analo

  • by Lisias (447563) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:42AM (#45560839) Homepage Journal

    Probably both.

    It's hard to keep analog transmission lines when you can transmit thousands of times the same information using a digital channel that costs the same (or even less).

    But communication is not *just* about cheapness, it's about reliability. Analog lines are far more resilient than digital lines, and a wise one should take this in consideration on the long term.

    A cheap telephone line that I can't use when I really need is a useless telephone line.

    by the way, are you americans happy with your broadband internet connection? What do you think it will happen with your telephone services when it will be serviced using the same technology by the same players your Internet connection is served now?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I know, it's AC, so nobody will see this; however, ...

      We can all see the excellent strides AT&T have made in providing IPv6 to their residential customers. And the excellent strides providing fiber to the home.

      In case you don't deal with AT&T, both of these statements are highly laden with scarcasam. To point, AT&T have been pretending to give a dam about IPv6 for nearly a decade now, and were beaten in putting fiber to the home by their competitors Verizon, and even now by Google.

      Sure, they r

  • by mariox19 (632969) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:47AM (#45560865)

    The call quality on both cell phones and IP phones is worse than those on traditional phone lines. IP phones echo and stutter. Cell phones give no aural feedback in the earpiece of the person speaking, which is why everyone is always yelling over their cell phone, and cut out when no one is speaking, which sounds like a dropped call. I think anyone who enjoyed two, three, or more decades in the last century, making phone calls over POTS lines, would agree that we have taken a step back in call quality. Every phone call is like an overseas call from the 1970's. Pulling up the POTS lines would be a mistake.

    • Indeed so, I often have trouble understanding people on cell phones.

      But it's not as though landlines are great sounding - G.711 isn't exactly high fidelity. Of course, to use anything better we'd need to have digital all the way to the home - but then we've got that for internet access.

      Here in the UK, the major phone compant (BT) had a big plan to roll out a new network (21CN) to integrate all data & voice services on a new IP based network. After much fanfare they quietly dropped the voice part, which

    • by careysb (566113)

      Absolutely! Talking on a cell phone is often like talking on a walkie-talkie, --over-- The pauses and delay are extremely annoying --over--

      So, if the phone companies will save "vast" amounts of money by doing away with POTS, they why aren't they upgrading their lines already on their dime? Are they waiting for the tax payer to foot the bill? And by "lines", I mean replacing the last mile of copper with fiber, not cell phones.

  • by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:48AM (#45560871) Homepage

    POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage [emphasis mine]. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure?

    We'd be replacing one highly centralized system with a different one. Hardly a problem in itself.

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:30AM (#45561177) Homepage

      POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage [emphasis mine]. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure?

      We'd be replacing one highly centralized system with a different one. Hardly a problem in itself.

      [Parent's emphasis retained]
       
      If the current POTS were highly centralized - you'd have a point. But it isn't, it's widely distributed. The ring-and-talk voltage for my analog POTS phone comes from a phone center just a few miles away. Folks at the south end of the county have their own center, as do the folks at the north end of the county, etc... etc... (If an accident or disaster severs our links to the outside world, our local system continues to operate just fine.) Will this be true of an IP based network?
       
      And that's the real key as to whether or not an IP based system is sufficient replacement for the POTS - will it provide equivalent support (I.E. will it continue to work even if I lose power to my house as the current system does), and will it fail (at the system level) as gracefully? While I doubt the POTS is entirely bulletproof, short of damage that physically destroys the system (which are rare event indeed, even on the national scale) it's robust as hell. After all, they've had over a century to refine the design.

      • by profplump (309017)

        If you're worried about independent functionality and reliability you should regulate those aspects *directly* rather than requiring a particular solution. There isn't anything inherent about either of the technologies that guarantee the features you want, nor that prevents those features from being provided.

  • Wire is good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pcjunky (517872) <walterp@cyberstreet.com> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:48AM (#45560873) Homepage

    Remember that the wire used to deliver POTS service also delivers DSL. No wire, no DSL.

    • by pepty (1976012)
      Pretty much this. Cable TV is hugely profitable, wireless is hugely profitable and growing. Telco companies really don't want a customer unless there is a wireless or cable subscription involved.
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:49AM (#45560879) Journal
    The fittest technology for the task is one that answers to the lowest available technology for the task. While I'm all for cheap internet phone calls, I'm also the first to admit that it is not for everyone and won't deal with many users out there. Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

    Making it so does put the emphasis on the user to provide some of the infrastructure that the telcos usually provide, thus saving them money, i.e costing you money, so that the revenues can be driven even higher. The real issue though is supporting emergency phone calls reliably when lives are on the line and whether the backbone technology for the telcos is suitable for the last mile to Joe Caller.

    • by JBMcB (73720)

      Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

      I *almost* agree. Saying we should keep POTS until it can be replaced with fiber, however, is like saying everyone should stick with driving Yugos until it becomes feasible for everyone to buy a Ferrari. Wireless technologies are a good interim solution until fiber can be deployed ubiquitously, especially in very low density areas.

      • Re:Answer: None (Score:5, Insightful)

        by crunchygranola (1954152) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:22AM (#45561117)

        Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

        I *almost* agree. Saying we should keep POTS until it can be replaced with fiber, however, is like saying everyone should stick with driving Yugos until it becomes feasible for everyone to buy a Ferrari. Wireless technologies are a good interim solution until fiber can be deployed ubiquitously, especially in very low density areas.

        And I *almost* agree with this. I have this one caveat: that a wireless interim solution actually be implemented before POTS is killed. If the data transmission corporations want to kill POTS they should be eager to cooperate in setting up an adequate replacement in terms of coverage, accessibility and reliability.

  • Of cells would work as POTS would be useful should a line go down.
  • by JustOK (667959)

    As long as we keep the semaphore towers. Also, I heard there's a Mountie in Canada that is apparently still on the POTS and it's causing all kinds of problems. He can't use the phone if he's wearing his uniform or something like that.

  • POTS... (Score:5, Informative)

    by gerardrj (207690) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:57AM (#45560931) Journal

    Isn't as plain or old as you make it out to be. I'm about 2 miles from my CO but my phone line terminates in a climate controlled cabinet about 1,000ft from my house. That's the end of the line for my pair where the line is powered, digitized and bridged to fiber for the haul back to the CO.
    Even without that the addition of DSL about 2 decades ago added a lot of complexity to the system with DSLAMs and other digital equipment. Much of that digital stuff was spliced in between the switch and CPE on the CO or line side, but it was still there.

    The COs I've been in also don't use the card coded switches you seem to be talking to; they use gigantic digital affairs that are all basically computers and handle not only the line pair for voice, but DST, T and D trunks, interoffice signaling and such.

    The reason this stuff is all so resilient is the power supply. Nothing in the CO runs on wall voltage; it's all -48vDC and runs from a battery bank the size of a small house. The batteries are constantly charged from mains at the rate of their depletion by the equipment. In case of power failure where they batteries are being drawn down a generator auto-starts and switches from mains to local power to re-charge the batteries. Note that in this setup the load equipment is never switched from one power source to another (a major single-point of failure).

    That said... Im not against reforming or eliminate the last vestiges of POTS.Less that 1/3 of the population HAS it and I'd bet even less than that actually use it. By that I mean that I think less than 1/10th of the US population has a telephone in their house that will work solely from CO power on the line pair without a wall wart.

  • by Beacon11 (1499015) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @10:57AM (#45560933) Homepage
    And learn to charge your batteries without the power grid. I think that's what you're looking for here-- POTS won't last long during a catastrophe.
  • We live in a remote area. There are two cell towers (AT&T and Verizon) in the county seat. They cover some, but not all of the local area. At our house, AT&T cell is blocked by a mountain. We get a little knife edge refraction signal, but you can't count on it. As far as using it for 911 calls, the idea is just silly.

    If they get rid of the POTS, they pretty much get rid of phone service. Internet comes in by an rf link. We're pretty much the last house in the canyon we live in to get rf link int
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Let the 'free market' take care of pots demand? Without government subsidies, the copper wouldn't have been strung out to your middle-of-nowhere canyon house in the first place, and certainly wouldn't be maintained over the long term. Your terrible cell service is an example of the 'free market' handling it. I'm not arguing with your conclusion, just questioning whether it really gets what you're after.

  • The technology is ready to retire. The impediment is regulatory -- without FCC oversight, delivery of last-mile infrastructure becomes thoroughly anticompetitive, a process which has repeated itself over and over again this past half century. POTS and twisted pair has been the last vestige of deregulation in the sector, to the detriment of the public and MUCH to the detriment of inventors and small business.

  • by Gravis Zero (934156) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:08AM (#45561001)

    there are two lines of thought.

    sensible and socially responsible:
    why disable an existing and working system that has advantages over the new system? at the very least, make outgoing calls free for emergency purposes.

    shortsighted asshole capitalist:
    it costs money to maintain, so just unplug it as soon as contractually possible. when they somehow manage to call your support staff, tell them that they will need to upgrade to your cable internet + VOIP service and transfer them to sales. if they are rural and thus too far out to actually make a profit from installing new cabling, tell them they cant get it and politely hang up. be sure to use your hired company that keeps track of online forums and rating sites to blast anyone that is upset.

    which do you think your telecom is going to fall under?

  • by multimediavt (965608) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:10AM (#45561011)

    Technologies come and go. I didn't see folks up in arms when the roaming knife sharpeners and milk delivery men went out of business. Those going away destroyed jobs. Moving from POTS to digital IP-based communications is a good thing. The digital service can be restored a lot faster, and there are excellent cell phone tower replacements. [wikipedia.org]

    The only thing really lost is local 911 services. Those things were a disaster waiting to happen, anyway, as the cost of the analog infrastructure was killing localities as they tried to grow. Something better needs to be implemented and sooner is always better than later.

    The one advantage POTS has is that it does take a court order for them to tap the line. But, I am guessing that laws will be changing soon and some of our privacy and security concerns will get addressed. Again, sooner is always better than later.

    • by Burz (138833)

      As others here have pointed out, even "excellent" cell phone towers require people to talk like they're using walkie-talkies.

      I got rid of land lines long ago, but I haven't had a real quality conversation on the phone since. The full-duplex aural feedback just isn't there.

  • by chipperdog (169552) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:11AM (#45561021) Homepage
    They are not proposing replacement with cell service, but with wired IP. IP based telephony is LESS centralized than analog pots, and is easier to setup redundancy, and has better audio quality (when g.722 or g.729 codecs are used).... The main drawbacks are there is no longer a central battery for all stations, and phone sets need more complex electronics....
  • by scorp1us (235526) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:14AM (#45561053) Journal

    POTS supplies its own power. So now insead one one connection worki g you need two connections. VoIP data and some ki d of power, and they have to both be working at the same time.

    BTW the cheapest VoIP provider if you are just trying to hold onto a number is callcentric at $3.95/mo incl 911 and pay per minute.

  • by sjwt (161428)

    "But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other"

    I dont know where you live or what magic technology you use, but Telephones have never been stand alone, except in a small number of direct wired locations such as internal coms or maybe some major military back ups. You pick up a phone to dial or connect, and Point B needs to handle your connection to Point c.

  • IP telephony sucks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zakabog (603757) <john@@@jmaug...com> on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:16AM (#45561077)

    As someone who builds and installs large phone systems for a living, I cringe whenever a customer tells me "Yeah we've got a T1, coming in over Time Warner."

    A traditional copper PRI from Verizon is the ideal service I like most of my customers to have, I never get anywhere near the same level complaints of call quality issues or service outages for a traditional PRI that I get for any PRI coming in over the internet. Well, except after hurricane Sandy, after that storm we had a number of customers switch over to an IP based PRI or a pure SIP solution. It made sense since it took Verizon months to fix their wiring, but a lot of these customers that switched wanted to immediately switch back as soon as Verizon was available again since the quality was so god awful.

    I have no problem with Verizon using fiber and IP based telephony in the back end since I they're not going to be able to maintain their legacy equipment forever. But, don't send everything down the same pipe and just install a $200 Adtran on-site and expect it to be anywhere near as reliable. Especially since a lot of the support engineers for these carriers have no idea how to do anything with an IAD. I've had support engineers tell me I need to send a SIP redirect to forward calls out with the proper caller ID, well sure I'd love to except I'm being handed a PRI and the SIP side of things is all them.

    Anyway, for customers that have rock solid internet and a separate dedicated pipe for a SIP trunk, I have no problem going native SIP all the way to our equipment. My problem is when someone out in the boonies thinks they'll save a ton of money switching to VoIP service from their cable provider. Instead it just means dozens of billable hours trying to explain to this customer that while their internet service is excellent for checking Facebook, good voice quality requires a solid internet connection with little to no packet loss and very low latency and nothing we can do to their PBX will change that. Although as one coworker pointed out, as the number of people who grew up using cell phones all their life increases, the less complaints we will receive. People who are used to POTS lines are going to be used to picking up a phone and having excellent call quality, people who grew up with cell phones are much more accustomed to jitter, echo, and poor call quality so I'm sure they'll be fine in a pure IP telephony world.

  • by faedle (114018) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:32AM (#45561189) Homepage Journal

    We have this impression of the reliability and stability of the POTS network partially because it is ubiquitous and invisible. Yet, as someone who has spent most of my adult life working in and around copper twisted pair, I can tell you POTS isn't as "reliable" as you think.

    You have the impression that POTS is reliable because there's a small army of men and women maintaining it. AT&T is claiming that it is costing them a fortune to maintain the copper twisted pair infrastructure to the standards dictated by the FCC for a rapidly dwindling number of customers. People are leaving copper-pair services by the thousands every day: some are going wireless, some are going to pure-play VoIP providers, and even the "cable company" (or the telephone company's own fiber).

    Copper wire only lasts 20-30 years hanging from the side of a pole, on average, before it will likely need to be replaced. Especially in urban areas, where cable replacement isn't cheap, most of the landline phone companies are staring down the barrel of 50-60 year old copper infrastructure that may have as many as 75% of the pairs condemned.

    Let me put it this way. No IT department for a business in a 100-year-old building facing a phone rewire job would replace all that 50-year-old 25-pair with.. more Category 2. The minimum they'd pull is Cat5e or "6", and even more likely they'd pull a significant amount of fiber, if not to the desk at least to a departmental wiring closet. That's the same decision the phone companies want to make.

    From a strictly technical/engineering perspective, it's 100% the right choice. Copper loop is functionally obsolete in almost every way.

    • I can tell you POTS isn't as "reliable" as you think.

      You have the impression that POTS is reliable because there's a small army of men and women maintaining it.

      That's part of it. It's alse reliable and robust because it's designed to be so - there's redundant power supplies, alternate paths, widely distributed switching and control networks, etc... etc... Current commercial IP networks aren't designed or built to nearly the same level of reliability or robustness. Or, to put it another way... I've lost

  • If you think your current POTS line is circuit-switched, or will work if your local exchange is disconnected from the network, think again.

    A bigger concern is that while POTS isn't as robust as, say, cellular or VoIP against some sorts of damage it *will* work during a prolonged power outage (as long as the generator at the local exchange stays fuelled). VoIP won't, at all, unless there's power at the subscribers home. Cellular even if you can keep your cellphone battery topped off somehow, I wouldn't bet

  • along with the wirecenters/etc should be transferred to local cities and townships, to use for emergency communications. (Eg 911).

    Every line should automatically have a number, every line should able to dial 911. Cost of maintenance should be covered by a SMALL tax, similar in amount to the "e911" charge already in use, per home.

    In fact, this is what should have been done with payphones, too. But its too late for that I guess.

  • A POTS home requires a phone that needs no on-premises equipment requiring a source of power. Also, POTS is required by law to provide 911 service even if the homeowner isn't paying for any phone service.

    Even though I have VOIP (comcast), I have a corded (no batteries needed) POTS phone in case there is an emergency, I can disconnect my VOIP line from the house, and plug in the 20yr old $10 'walmart special' into the wall and call 911.

    Sure, a cell is a backup for VOIP, but they both require power to work.

    b

  • by Bomarc (306716) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @11:45AM (#45561269) Homepage
    Don't remove POTS. Some key reasons:
    In case of incident (Natural / man made). Here in Seattle (area), several years ago we had a large wind storm that took out most of the power in the entire region. Many areas didn't have power for over a week. Cell phone - towers died after about three days. That's right: The TOWERS failed. Also, you couldn't get gasoline; no power at the pumps (Read local generators - at homes - started giving out).

    In some areas of Seattle, people have their choice of which ISP they like (DSL, Cable, fiber optic, wireless) which is all fine and good for a VOIP carrier. Ask any of the phone companies what will happen when the power goes out? You can't call... 911, the power company, anyone for any emergency service, much less a call such as "I'm alive and okay", or "need food, shelter" (in case of some emergency).

    I have family in north eastern WA. Where they are at, there is not viable alternative to dial-up. No VOIP, and spotty cell phone availability.

    Cell phones... great sound unless you are in a dead area (there are a lot more of these than the phone company's are willing to admit); or as noted the power is out for an extended time.

    Just because it (POTS) isn't as profitable as cell - or as well regulated, doesn't men it should be dismantled.
  • by faffod (905810) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @12:32PM (#45561529)
    What the phone companies can and can't do with POTS is highly regulated. They have been on a crusade to do away with the regulations for a long time. This is a simpler way to get rid of the regulations.
  • deregulation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday November 30, 2013 @03:45PM (#45562733)

    I work for a phone company. This move is about deregulation, nothing more. Phone companies biggest competitors are cable companies, that's obvious. But what's not so obvious is the huge regulatory hurdles phone companies have to overcome while cable companies are almost completely unregulated. The FCC is almost entirely in AT&Ts pocket.... hell, most of the people working for the FCC probably used to work for AT&T. This will pass just like everything else AT&T wants, they basically write their own regulation now.

    What will happen? What are AT&T's goals?
    Phone service is more profitable in areas of high population density. For years AT&T has been abandoning rural exchanges, selling them, and focusing on big cities. They are exponentially more profitable than rural areas. The problem however is these exchanges usually cover areas that are both highly profitable and areas that actually lose money. So the phone company, by law, has to shift the burden across the entire exchange. So the city peoples prices go up, so the rural people can have phone service. The cable companies however just refuse to serve rural people. This is exactly what AT&T wants. Imagine the footprint of your local cable company, that is the exact same footprint AT&T wants for their phone service. Outside that? Get a cellphone.

    The article seems to want to argue the primary reason to hold onto POTs is its relighability. During a disaster it stays working... well no, it doesn't. Basically it works like this, there is a primary switch and it can reach out a certain distance before call quality goes down. So then they have remotes that basically act as repeaters. Both the switch and the remotes have rooms full of car batteries. I'm not kidding they really are car batteries. They are all hooked up to a giant charger and if the power goes out the batteries continue to power the switch or remote for, at most, 36hrs. Often far less. If there is a power outage in the area, the batteries provide power long enough for the techs to drive a generator to the site. If there's a major power outage (think hurricane) the techs end up driving in circles from remote to remote with the 2 or 3 generators they have on had charging up each remote as much as they can before moving on to the next. At most this can last a few days. There are only so many techs, and so many generators. The techs get tired, the generators take hours to charge the remote up so they never get it above 25% before they have to move on to the next failing remote. etc... etc...

    POTs networks have very high alarm rates (I worked in the NOC for a while) Equipment is constantly failing. Mice, car accidents, etc... POTs networks are not redundant, have no fail-safes. If any part of the wiring leading back to the CO gets damaged, you lose your service. Once we switch people to IP service, all those problems go away. The network auto-corrects. We can have a degraded cable (bad pairs) and the equipment works around it. Rather than having to send a tech out every time a single pair is damaged, you now only have to send them when a certain percentage of the pairs in a binder are failing.

    So IP service IS better. But AT&T doesn't want to switch people to IP service because it's better... they want to be able to force people to take it weather they want it or not. They want to then treat the service as a data service (completely unregulated) and not be subjected to annoying PSC complaints about their services. The real solution here would be to make data just as regulated as phone service and then let AT&T provide whichever they want... but that's not going to happen.

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