CWA complains TDM-to-IP streamlining rules don't ensure broadband internet access

The Communications Workers of America union, which represents employees for telcos including AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), gave mixed reviews to the FCC's newly adopted Tech Transitions Order, which includes action to streamline telecom providers' requests to discontinue legacy voice services.

A telco's request to shut down older networks can now be approved in 30 days if its replacement services offer comparable network performance, give access to 911 emergency service, and are compatible with services that require reliable access like home security, medical monitoring devices, credit card readers and fax machines.

While applauding the establishment of "clear criteria" to replace older copper-based telecom services with fiber-based options, the CWA was not happy about the regulator's failure to include a requirement for high-speed internet access as part of any consideration to shut down legacy services.

"High-speed broadband is essential in today's economy and society. However, the FCC has failed to include the availability of Internet access as one of the criteria in its 'adequate replacement' test. Here, the FCC is wrong. The Commission should not allow a legacy carrier to shut down service if there is no replacement service that provides connection to the Internet," the union said in a media statement.

CWA has kept a close eye on incumbent telcos' strategies when it comes to shutting down copper networks. The union raised a ruckus in 2013 when Verizon decided to replace copper networks on Fire Island, New York, and on several New Jersey barrier islands, with its wireless Voice Link service after those legacy lines were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. It also complained loudly when Verizon began migrating copper customers in rural upstate New York communities to Voice Link, prompting the state's Attorney General to take action and request an injunction.

Verizon, for its part, defended its Voice Link plan at the time. "If the customer and Voice Link seem to be a good match, we're going to offer it to them. That doesn't violate anything. That's using the latest technology to provide the best service to the customer," said Senior Vice President Tom Maguire in a 2013 interview with FierceTelecom.

More recently, CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have accused the incumbent telcos of practicing de facto copper retirement -- basically, letting the networks degrade to the point that they must be replaced, rather than maintaining them. AT&T and Verizon both deny that they are doing this, but consumers in southern New Jersey have complained that their voice service, provided by Verizon, has deteriorated significantly in recent months.

Streamlining discontinuance requests and enforcing public disclosure is a step forward in making sure de facto copper retirement does not take place, the CWA said.

"CWA is hopeful that today's Order -- coupled with the advance notice and public disclosure requirements in previous Copper Retirement and Back-Up Battery Orders -- will accelerate job-creating investment in high-speed broadband networks to all Americans," the union said.

For more:
- see this CWA statement
- see this RCR Wireless article

Related articles:
FCC votes to streamline process for operators to transition from TDM to IP services
AT&T to conduct TDM-to-IP transition tests in Alabama, Florida
Verizon's New Jersey legacy phone services poised for deregulation