Verizon, CenturyLink say abandoning copper network is a "myth"

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) may be anxious to shut down all of their copper facilities and transition to fiber, but each provider has told the FCC that de facto copper retirement is a "myth" and there's no need to include new requirements addressing the issue in its technology transition plans. 

De facto copper retirement is the process where a telco would let their aging copper plant deteriorate to the point where it would become necessary to replace the copper with fiber. 

The FCC is concerned about these allegations because CLECs, which rent copper facilities from ILECs like Verizon and CenturyLink, could be left without connections for their business customers.

Seeing greater operational efficiency and the potential to upsell FiOS services, Verizon has been replacing copper plant with fiber that connects to residential customers in various parts of its Northeast last mile network.

In the second quarter of 2015, Verizon reported that it had converted 51,000 customers off of copper to fiber, bringing its first-half total to 98,000. It has set a full-year goal to convert 200,000 customers

However, Verizon said that de facto copper retirement does not exist and including a provision on it would make it more challenging to migrate customers to fiber, particularly in areas where the copper plant is unsustainable to maintain.

"Consistent with our July 13 ex parte letter, we explained de facto copper retirement is a myth and defining copper retirement to include de facto retirement could result in unmanageable loop-by-loop retirement requirements and complicate a provider's ability to move customers to fiber when that is the best and most efficient way to resolve troubles they are experiencing with copper facilities," wrote Verizon in a FCC filing.

Verizon's filing comes as the carrier is in the midst of negotiating a new labor contract with workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a union that has accused  the telco of abandoning maintenance on its existing copper plant in the Northeast region.

CenturyLink, which is now the third largest U.S. ILEC, has cited a similar situation with the copper retirement process. The telco said that every year it invests a large part of its capital dollars to ensure that its existing copper network continues to function for its wholesale and consumer customers.

"CenturyLink spends billions of dollars to maintain its copper network such that a de facto copper retirement standard is not necessary to ensure the integrity of the copper network," wrote CenturyLink in an FCC filing.

For CLECs, the concern is what impact retiring copper in a particular region could have on serving their business customers.

Competitors like XO Communications, which use ILEC copper loops to provide Ethernet over Copper (EoC) services to complement its fiber product set, responded that while it does not want to get in the way of an ILEC's migration to fiber it wants to be given ample notice of when non-residential copper is going to be taken out of service.

XO said it agrees with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to mandate that ILECs provide a minimum of six months' notice for non-residential copper based retirements has been proposed by the Chairman. In a separate filing, the CLEC had asked for a one-year notice on copper retirement.

"XO is not seeking and has never sought to stand in the way of ILEC retirement of copper facilities (or require prior Commission approval), but, because XO uses ILEC copper loops to provide EoC, XO requires adequate notice and information that improves business certainty, similar to arrangements found in normal commercial relationships between vendors and customers," wrote XO in an FCC filing. "XO has sought sufficient and longer notice before copper retirements take effect to allow XO to identify and implement suitable alternatives for their end user customers in a timely fashion."

XO added that it would like the FCC to "clarify that copper facilities cannot be retired through neglect but only following actual notice."

Verizon has argued that XO's proposal for one-year notice would delay their transition to IP and fiber.

For more:
- see Verizon's FCC filing (.pdf)
- see CenturyLink's FCC filing (.pdf)
- and XO's FCC filing (.pdf)

Editor's Corner: AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon copper-to-fiber transitions must consider impact on local businesses

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