CenturyLink asks FCC to allow TDM voice shutdown if alternatives are available

As CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) moves forward with its transition from legacy TDM, the telco has asked the FCC in a new filing to grant requests to discontinue TDM voice services in areas where consumers have alternative services available.

These alternatives could include a mix of VoIP services from an over-the-top provider such as Ooma or Vonage, or a 3G or 4G service from a wireless operator.

"If a carrier (including an ILEC) seeking to discontinue TDM voice service certifies that all affected retail customers have access to a "reasonably comparable alternative," that discontinuance request would be granted unless it is shown that such an alternative is not actually available," wrote CenturyLink in a FCC filing. "Such reasonably comparable alternatives would include facilities-based interconnected VoIP, circuit-switched, or 3G or 4G wireless service, provided by the discontinuing carrier or any other provider."

What's driving CenturyLink to ask for these permissions is the fact that a growing base of the customers it serves in its territories have either ditched their traditional landline voice service with a wireless service or are using VoIP. The telco said that one in three homes are "wireless only" and nearly a third of homes use a VoIP service.

Similar to other traditional ILECs, these trends have cut into CenturyLink's POTS (plain old telephone service) business. According to CenturyLink's projections, since "2000, ILECs in the 37 states that CenturyLink serves have lost over 70% of their residential lines."

In addition to retail voice, the service provider has also recommended the regulator provide guidelines for its wholesale CLEC customers regarding access to any ILEC's last mile facilities while providing a path for companies like CenturyLink to eventually shut down TDM-based services.

Given that the transition from TDM to IP will take place over a number of years, the service provider has proposed a transitional process to retire its copper network while offering new IP-based services on existing facilities to existing and new wholesale CLEC customers.

The service provider will offer a mix of products such as Ethernet over DS-1 (EoDS-1) and possibly a VDSL2-based product that would enable it to provide Ethernet to more customers, even those that reside where it has not built out fiber yet.

CenturyLink wrote that the EoDS1 product and VDSL2 service "provide a comparable and more flexible alternative to DS1 and DS3 special access circuits during the transition."

When it comes to replacing copper with fiber, CenturyLink will provide a notice to CLECs that it will shut down the legacy transport mechanism only after customers in a particular area decide they no longer want to use the service. It is giving customers the option to either buy the new fiber-based services or continue to use the copper-based services.

"Existing customers subscribing to a copper-based TDM service remain on those copper facilities until they disconnect the service or migrate to fiber-based products and services," wrote CenturyLink. "At that point, the copper facilities are decommissioned."

CenturyLink added that any new customers will be "served over the new fiber network" an approach that it says "balances customer choice of service while still facilitating migration to the fiber network."

However compelling CenturyLink's proposal is a number of competitive providers including Windstream and Granite Telecommunications have expressed concern that they aren't able to make multi-year contractual commitments to retail business customers without some certainty regarding its access to last-mile ILEC facilities.

In response, CenturyLink said that "Windstream's 'guiding principles' have no basis in law or sound public policy and would impair the IP transition."

For more:
- see this FCC filing (.pdf)

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