Washington, D.C. -- Today, the Federal Communications Commission took an important step to ensure that every American will continue to have access to reliable, affordable, quality voice service, regardless of the technology used to provide that service. By establishing clear criteria to guide the replacement of legacy services with those provided by new network technologies, the FCC ‘s updated rules will facilitate the transition to new communications networks that promise multiple benefits and provide important safeguards for customers.
The FCC’s Tech Transitions Order comes three years after CWA and others raised concerns about Verizon Communications’ decision to replace storm-damaged copper networks with an inferior fixed-wireless Voice Link service on Fire Island NY and several New Jersey barrier islands. It was clear then – and it is clear now – that Voice Link does not provide the basic services that consumers need and expect from their communications networks, including Internet connectivity, 911 location reliability, and compatibility with home health devices, security alarms, and fax machines.
The FCC’s updated discontinuance rules make clear that Voice Link – and other inferior technologies – do not pass the test as “adequate replacements” for legacy circuit-switched voice service. In today’s Tech Transitions Order, the FCC enumerates clear, bright-line criteria that it will use to evaluate a streamlined application to discontinue or reduce legacy service. The FCC’s updated Section 214(a) discontinuance rules require a carrier requesting streamlined discontinuance authority to certify there is an “adequate replacement” for the legacy service available throughout the geographic area. The “adequate replacement” must provide similar levels of network quality as the discontinued service, including 99.9999 percent availability; it must be in compliance with federal standards regarding 911, access for people with disabilities, and cybersecurity; and it must be interoperable with fax machines, home security systems, and medical devices. Legacy carriers must undertake a comprehensive consumer education program prior to any request to discontinue service.
CWA is pleased that the FCC will also consider affordability in its evaluation of a streamlined discontinuance petition. A replacement service that is significantly more expensive than legacy service is simply not an adequate replacement and fails to meet the Communications Act statutory mandate to provide quality services at “just, reasonable, and affordable rates” to all Americans.
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. To promote digital equality, CWA urges the FCC going forward to include the availability of Internet connectivity in its public interest evaluation of any discontinuance request.
In its earlier Copper Retirement Order, the FCC made clear that neglect of copper facilities that leads to loss of service constitutes de facto service discontinuance for which a Section 214(a) application is necessary. CWA will carefully monitor any non-compliance with this provision.
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. CWA will continue to be vigilant to ensure that communications companies cannot use technology transition as a mechanism to undermine living standards and collective bargaining rights in the communications industry.