AT&T (NYSE: T) is targeting Alabama and Florida as the first two areas where it will conduct tests on all-IP services as part of its broader initiative to shut down its copper and TDM-based network in 2020.
These tests, which still need regulatory approval, will give the FCC more information on permitting AT&T and other traditional telcos to stop offering traditional wireline POTS service as more residential customers migrate towards wireless and over-the-top IP-based VoIP providers like Vonage (NYSE: VG) and Skype for voice service.
Like its fellow ILEC brothers Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), AT&T's traditional landline voice subscriber base continues to decline. According to a filing it made last year with the FCC, more than 70 percent of the residential customers it serves in its 22-state serving area have canceled their service.
In the fourth quarter of 2013, AT&T reported that total voice line subscribers declined 11.5 percent year-over-year, ending the quarter with a total of 28.4 million subscribers.
The service provider has proposed conducting the trials in two areas that have contrasting dynamics: a rural area in Carbon Hill, Ala., and a more suburban area in West Delray Beach, Fla.
"We chose these locations in an effort to gain insights into some of the more difficult issues that likely will be presented as we transition from legacy networks," said Hank Hultquist, vice president/federal regulatory for AT&T, in a blog post. "For example, the rural and sparsely populated wire center of Carbon Hill poses particularly challenging economic and geographic characteristics. While Kings Point's suburban location and large population of older Americans poses different but significant challenges as well. The lessons we learn from these trials will play a critical role as we begin this transition in our approximately 4700 wire centers across the country to meet our goal of completing the IP transition by the end of 2020."
Per the instruction of the FCC, AT&T will test whether customers will be able to reach emergency 911 services and if people with medical devices and home security alarms can be assured they can still get a connection.
These trials follow an order that the FCC issued in January. The aim is to gather information in three broad areas: service-based experiments; targeted experiments and cooperative research; and data improvement.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler cited the TDM-to-IP migration as one of his initial priorities when he became the regulator's chairman in November.
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