An FCC notice issued last week about Verizon’s Voice Link wireless landline replacement service illustrates the complexity and potential pitfalls of modernizing plain old telephone service (POTS) – a topic about which AT&T repeatedly has petitioned the FCC.
When Verizon’s traditional copper phone line infrastructure on New York’s Fire Island and Barrier Island was damaged by Superstorm Sandy last year, the carrier began offering Voice Link as a replacement and petitioned the FCC to allow that to be a permanent solution.
The FCC back in June proposed to grant Verizon’s request but offered stakeholders a two-month comment period. Based on comments received, the FCC now has said that it will not automatically grant Verizon’s request but instead wants additional information.
The commission appears particularly concerned about the reliability of Verizon’s wireless infrastructure and its ability to support 911 services. According to Verizon, Voice Link “will identify your exact address for the 911 systems operator,” as with traditional POTS.
But the FCC now is asking the carrier to explain how 911 calls placed by Voice Link customers in the affected areas are routed to the appropriate public service answering point, to describe in detail the actions Verizon and Verizon Wireless have taken to ensure that 911 calls from the affected areas using Voice Link have at least the same call completion rate and the same or better routing time as before Sandy and to provide other details.
Other concerns pertain to Voice Link’s ability to support monitored alarm security systems, fax machines, DVR services, credit card machines and medical alert services. Verizon makes no secret about Voice Link’s limitations, advising Fire Island customers in a letter that such services may not work properly.
Verizon notes that affected customers may have a variety of options other than Voice Link for replacing their traditional phone service, including traditional wireless service and cable services. But the other wireless services are likely to have the same limitations as Voice Link – and while cable may be a better solution, it’s not clear whether it addresses all of Verizon’s problem areas. And the cable company may not have the same carrier of last resort obligations that Verizon faces.
The FCC may yet approve Verizon’s request. In last week’s notice the commission emphasized that its request for additional information “should not be construed as a final determination on the merits of Verizon’s request for authority to discontinue services.”
Industry stakeholders will want to pay close attention to the final outcome on Verizon’s petition, as it should offer an idea of the issues that any carrier will face if it should seek to phase out traditional POTS in favor of a wireless solution.