NTCA critical of additional backup power mandate on rural telcos

NTCA, an industry forum focused on rural telcos, says that the FCC should not place larger mandates on service providers, because the fact that many consumers shift to using cell phones during power outages shows that they don't see standby power for voice service a priority.

According to FCC figures, 41 percent of American consumers have "cut the cord" and rely on a mobile phone to get their voice service. At the same time, the majority of homes that still have a landline voice service use cordless phones, with few users expressing an interest in having backup power.

"There is little indication in the record that those American consumers that continue to subscribe to a wireline voice service have a desire for backup power," wrote the NTCA in an FCC filing. "As several nationwide and cable voice providers have stated, only a small percentage of consumers choose to purchase a backup power battery when offered to them."

Case in point is Cincinnati Bell. In a case study they submitted to the FCC in a February filing, the carrier tried to market its POTS (plain old telephone service) to cable and VoIP subscribers by promoting the availability of backup power during Hurricane Ike in 2008, which left nearly 2 million consumers without electricity.

Cincinnati Bell said that it "saw little to no uptick as a result and landline losses continued at a steady pace despite the lack of backup power with alternative services."

Because rural LECs (RLECs) serve smaller communities, they have put in place network elements to ensure customers can still get access to voice service in the event of a power outage or other emergency or disaster situation. However, these service providers say that they should not be required to provide more than eight hours of backup power.  

"RLECs have a strong commitment to public safety and their customers' access to voice service in the event of a power outage or other emergency or disaster situation, as they live and work in the small communities they serve and thus have unparalleled accountability to their neighbors and a personal stake in the reliability of their networks," wrote the NTCA. "In keeping with that commitment, the Rural Representatives' members and clients report that the provision of a backup battery that is capable of providing approximately eight hours of standby backup power is typically a standard part of a fiber-to-the-home ("FTTH") installation. Based on the above-discussed points, the Rural Representatives stated that mandates beyond this eight hour standard would impose unreasonable and unnecessary costs on RLECs."

The NTCA's comments come as the FCC proposed new rules around backup power.

Under the commission's proposal, service providers would be required to provide up to eight hours of standby backup power for purchase when consumers subscribe to a VoIP or FTTH service either directly from the service provider or from a third-party retailer. The FCC added that within three years, service providers would also be required to offer an option for 24 hours of standby backup power.

Rural telcos aren't the only ones concerned about meeting additional backup power requirements for voice services in a FTTH network.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ), which serves a number of Tier 1 cities and towns in the Northeast, said in a separate filing that as more of its customers migrate over to FiOS or as it switches copper customers onto a fiber-based voice connection, they are increasingly using cellphones as their voice connection during a power outage.

"An increasing number of customers found they did not need a battery back-up solution at all, given their increased reliance on their wireless phones in the event of a commercial power outage or use of cordless telephone handsets in their home that also require power to operate," Verizon wrote in an FCC ex parte filing.

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

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