FCC Moves To Gut Rules Protecting Broadband Users Telcos No Longer Want

from the ill-communication dept

As AT&T and Verizon shift their focus from fixed-line broadband to the more sexy world of Millennial advertising (often quite poorly), they’ve effectively decided to hang up on millions of unwanted DSL users they refuse to upgrade and no longer want. This has often involved imposing relentless rate hikes on service speeds straight out of 2003, or in many cases simply refusing to repair these lines. They’ve also convinced state after state that if they gut consumer protections keeping these lines intact, better, faster broadband connections will miraculously spring from the sidewalks.

AT&T and Verizon argue that state and federal guidelines on this front are just outdated regulations preventing them from building the next-generation networks of tomorrow. Fiber is more reliable and wireless is more flexible, they argue, making older lines irrelevant. That, however, ignores these companies’ refusal to actually fully deploy fiber, the fact that pricey & capped wireless isn’t a suitable replacement for unlimited DSL, that these lines were taxpayer subsidized, or that many of these DSL and POTS (plain old telephone service) services are still very much in use by the elderly and under-served.

In reality, this “IP transition” (as AT&T execs like to call it) is having a very real, very negative impact on broadband markets. The biggest impact being that with telcos refusing to upgrade their DSL networks at any scale, cable companies are running away with a growing fixed-line broadband monopoly in many parts of the country. That means higher prices, worse customer service, and the kind of punitive and arbitrary usage caps only made possible by a lack of competition.

Again though, if you ask AT&T and Verizon, none of this is a big deal because existing wireless services are perfectly suitable replacement for these fixed-line connections. But as people found out when Verizon refused to upgrade DSL lines in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that’s simply not the case. Wireless is often significantly more expensive, frequently capped (especially in rural areas), and often hard to get in many rural, tree-happy markets. Fifth-gen wireless may someday be a suitable replacement depending on cost, but for rural markets that future is a decade or more away.

So a few years back the FCC under Tom Wheeler crafted a set of fairly basic “functional tests” (pdf) intended to prevent telcos from pulling copper-based phone and broadband service without ensuring there’s a comparable replacement. The goal: to ensure that services that rely on traditional DSL and POTS still work, and that competitors that service customers over these lines could still access them. Not too surprisingly, telcos have been lobbying the government to gut this guidance. Also unsurprisingly, current FCC boss Ajit Pai has been quick to help them do just that:

“The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday on a plan that, according to Chairman Ajit Pai, will strip away regulations that prevent telcos from upgrading their networks.

But in doing so, the Republican-controlled FCC plans to eliminate a requirement that telcos provide Americans with service at least as good as the old copper networks that provide phone service and DSL Internet. The requirement relates to phone service but has an impact on broadband because the two services use the same networks.

While it should be fairly clear that this is yet another gift to the nation’s telecom duopolies, as with its net neutrality, media consolidation, and other recent policy 180s, the FCC is engaging in some tap-dance hyperbole to try and deny this is what they’re doing:

More concisely, the FCC’s existing “functional test” for carriers seeking to abandon DSL networks requires they prove that any replacement service is just as good as the services they’re eliminating. Since these carriers know wireless is often more expensive and often unavailable, and really don’t want to extend fiber into these areas (despite receiving countless billions to do so) they want those restrictions eliminated. It doesn’t matter if these lines were paid by taxpayers and are very much still in use; they’re focused on making money in mobile advertising.

To tap dance around these issues, Pai’s proposal, misleadingly-titled “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment (pdf),” doesn’t technically get rid of the guidance, but weakens it to the point of being effectively useless, as consumer groups like Public Knowledge and the NAACP make clear:

“Under current rules, an incumbent carrier cannot discontinue, reduce, or impair service unless there is a replacement service that is as good as the discontinued service. This is called the Functional Test. The FCC’s order will now interpret “service” to include a carrier’s tariff. A tariff is a very basic description of what a carrier offers and at what rate. This means the Commission’s remaining notice requirements will only apply to basic services, but will not include 911 services, ensure network reliability, or interconnection with devices consumers use such as medical monitors, alarm systems, fax and credit card machines, and equipment for people who are hearing impaired. In some cases, the sound of a dial tone may constitute service under the tariff test and therefore not even trigger a public comment and review.”

Again this is all very wonky, but a transition away from these taxpayer-subsidized fixed copper lines without ensuring there are reliable (or frankly any) alternatives will have a profound negative impact on your current cable broadband bill and service, while making it harder for less sexy markets to get quality broadband connections (already a significant problem we seem intent on ignoring). And again, Trump’s FCC is pushing a telco wishlist policy they know full well will hurt consumers and the health of the nation’s telecom infrastructure, while professing they’re doing the exact opposite.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “FCC Moves To Gut Rules Protecting Broadband Users Telcos No Longer Want”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“While our fiber internet is nice, it’s a poor replacement for copper phone lines.”

I understand that your story may just be anecdotal but I disagree with your sentiment, all the copper should be picked up and reused elsewhere. Yes power is a beneficial side effect of that old infrastructure but that too is something that should be changed. Fiber is more than obviously superior we just need to improve the associated components to mitigate some of the issues you have experienced.

Right now, our biggest problem is always trying to find the one size fits all solution to everything and then bitch about the monopolies it just forced into creation. It needs to stop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes power is a beneficial side effect of that old infrastructure but that too is something that should be changed.

It doesn’t have to be a "side" effect. Telcos could intentionally use the copper to send power (maintaining a 48V power grid is much easier than maintaining a whole voice network; we could even change them back to "party lines" for emergency-only voice service), or build Power-over-fiber into their networks (it’s a real thing). They’re not going to do it voluntarily, they’ll need to be forced or bought out by communities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

PoE in a data-center is way different than doing it on a geographic scale. There are just too many technologies reliably superior to copper wire. Just one simple failure can knock out power for hundreds to millions fast where copper is concerned.

Wireless comms can be easily replaced by tossing new towers down in a few hours, instead of the days, weeks, and months hard wire will require.

Anonymous Coward says:

it is such a shame....

that the beast you guys pined for has turned against you.

you were told so many times it would all come back and bite you on the ass and mocked the people that told you.

Now your new defense will be there is no reason for people to run around telling you that they told you so.

So the question is… what hope is there if you would not listen in the first place and only get angry but do not change when proven wrong?

This is only going to get worse and you cannot even see how you are playing into this disaster.

The FCC needs to be destroyed and allow the PUC in each state to regulate the local infrastructure and leave the anti-monopoly and anti-trust regulation to the FTC and other agencies. The FCC has been protecting and blessing this bullshit since its inception!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: it is such a shame....

Oh come off it already.

Do you just sit here and wait for an article to come up so that you can harass and harangue TD for things you clearly know absolutely nothing about?

The FCC, while not perfect, does provide many and varied useful functions, not the least of which is making sure proper guidelines are in place for electronics (and other) companies. You know that sticker on the bottom of your router or other electronic device that says “FCC certified etc…”? Yeah have fun trying to get any kind of electronics to work without those regulations. Those regulations make sure devices don’t interfere with each other.

The FCC is not the problem. The problem is the people in office playing all these political games and not actually doing their damn job.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: it is such a shame....

“The problem is the people in office playing all these political games and not actually doing their damn job.”

This is the only thing you said that was right. It’s a shame that you are too ignorant to figure out why!

If “the people in office” are busy ignoring the rules or making them up as they go along… what good are any NEW rules going to do us? No wonder big telco is winning this fight so easily? With friends like you fighting against them who needs enemies?

Let me make it clear, the bludgeon you handed over to them is the one being used to bludgeon YOU! Stop being such a sucker!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: it is such a shame....

The only ignorant one here is you. I never said anyone was “ignoring the rules or making them up as they go along”, did I?

No, I said people in office weren’t doing their jobs. That’s different than companies ignoring the rules. The rules we have in place are working just fine. What we don’t need is to roll them back.

And by the way, big telco isn’t winning this fight that easily. As evidenced by the nice net neutrality rules that are currently in place. What the big telcos have on their side are people like Ajit Pai who are seemingly paid off to get rid of the rules and people like you who don’t understand that without some form of rules, everything devolves into chaos. If you don’t believe me, please see human behavior and corporate history for the last century or two.

The reason we even have anti-trust laws is because we didn’t have any such rules originally and companies got greedy and took advantage of it before people got wise and put rules in place to stop it. So no, letting them do whatever the hell they want because “free market!” is a bad idea. I am all for the free market, but you have to have some ground rules to keep people playing fair.

If the only way you can make your argument make sense is by twisting my words then you have already lost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 it is such a shame....

“I never said anyone was “ignoring the rules or making them up as they go along”, did I?”

You silly twit, I am telling you that they are ignoring the rules, I already know you are too ignorant to have said such a thing.

“No, I said people in office weren’t doing their jobs.”

Which is the same as ignoring the rules. Their jobs are all rules based… hint hint? figure it out yet?

“That’s different than companies ignoring the rules.”

How so? If those “people in office” would “do their jobs and follow the rules” the companies would stop ignoring the rules too. Do you know what this means Professor?

“The rules we have in place are working just fine.”

Ha ha ha haa…. damn… put down the coolaid sir… we are not going to hurt you, please put down the coolaid.

“What we don’t need is to roll them back.”

Which ones is the question. Some do need to be rolled back. I am sick you guys talking to this situation like it is an all or nothing game. Any attempt to roll anything back and you start crying like a little girl acting its all coming down. This is why a lot of conservatives ignore you because you are ignorant and can do nothing other than perform kneejerk reactions to your ignorance.

And because of your ignorance, you make for a weak defense and are easily run over and disregarded. And the telcos would like to thank you for that! sucker!

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 it is such a shame....

As a Libertarian I am a firm believer in free markets; greedy corporations are only able to take advantage of consumers without market backlash because they chip away at market freedoms by lobbying for rules and regulations that ultimately destroy competition. That said, telephone and internet service has never really been a free market (Internet was back when it came from companies like Prodigy and AOl). From the very beginning of telephone service, the government jumped in and created the Ma Bell monopoly. Even when the government “privatized” phone service back in the 80s, Ma Bell was only broken into 4 regional companies, which have pretty much reabsorbed into the big 2, AT&T and Verizon. Claiming that internet and phone service- whether wired or wireless- is a robust market of competition is delusional and a lie. If these companies want to be deregulated, then they need to get every local level, competition squashing piece of legislation repealed. Then, for every tax break and subsidy deal they cut and did not fulfill their end 100%, they must return or pay the back taxes proportional to what they did not meet per the contract, plus interest and fees just like any other business that owes back taxes. I have no idea what the most fair way to return the money to the consumers is, but in light of the behavior the government permitted the telcos to get away with, it damn sure doesn’t belong back in their hands to mismanage further.

aerinai says:

Re: it is such a shame....

Maybe you missed the article…


The telcos want NO regulation… so quit playing the shill of the broadband duopoly and trotting out the drivel of ‘let the free market decide’.

Free markets work when there is a free…. market…. not when there is regulatory capture an immense barriers to entry. When a company the size of GOOGLE can’t break into the broadband market, that should shoot up warning flares so high that everyone on Capitol Hill takes notice (I said should… it didn’t).

So the next best thing is basic regulation… And I really do mean BASIC.

1) Don’t sell off private information.
2) Don’t pick winners and losers by Zero Rating your own companies and companies you are friendly with.
3) Don’t block access to websites…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: it is such a shame....

“The telcos want NO regulation…”

That is a farce to trick folks like you, and it works all too well sadly. They WANT regulation, that protects them, they just don’t want “consumer friendly” regulations so there is clearly a big difference between what you “think” they are after and what they are actually after.

You are dumber than a box of rocks… at least they know to fall when nothing is supporting them.

ECA (profile) says:


All the old Copper lines are still Valued..
For many reasons…LINE..
You can Always Adapt and fix the OLD system.. It was DESIGNED for emergencies and IS the last thing to Fail in emergencies.. Cell towers are dependent on Electrical power lines run to MANY easy to destroy locations.. 60 foot towers that can be targeted in MANY ways..

The DESIGN of fiber cable OUT in the country..is Very single minded..the OLD system had Lots of redundancy..AND is still used when SOMEONE breaks a fiber line. BU|T THAT ISNT their concern. ITS THE LAST mile..

They need to DIG UP LOTS of Roads and land in towns and cities to GET fiber installed. 1 TOWER covers a good range..and SUCKS for internet.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

I was reading through the story and came to this interesting conclusion:

17 million people just took the first step towards better service.

See, if the companies are walking away from serving these people, then they have no say in who would offer replacement service. If they don’t want to run fiber or copper or whatever, then “that’s nice” and they are out the door. They can offer a wireless alternative if they want, but some smart company will come along and spend the money to scoop up these rural consumers.

After all, with the incumbent players no longer in the game, they shouldn’t get a say.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

After all, with the incumbent players no longer in the game, they shouldn’t get a say.

‘Shouldn’t’ doesn’t mean ‘won’t’ unfortunately, and as they have demonstrated before just because they don’t want to offer service doesn’t mean they want anyone else stepping in to offer it instead.

If people want service then they’re getting it from them, and if that service costs several times more and/or has any number of other problems well that’s still better than those poor, easily confused locals having their hand earned tax dollars spent on an alternative that could very well cause the sun to explode, and we wouldn’t want that to happen now would we?

Of course not, and as such it’s far better for everyone to just keep paying the nice anti-exploding-sun company that may not be offering ancient, probably-going-to-turn-into-toxic-waste-any-day-now service anymore, and has moved on to rolling out much more modern service that will cost just a smidgen more perhaps. And may require a few more tax breaks and/or subsidies to really get going.

Mind, I’d love to see them face the situation you put forth, where the local areas use the fact that the big companies are pulling service as an excuse to let others step in and offer it instead, but if history is any indicator I suspect that they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep any competition out such that people are still forced to pay them.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think you’re right about this. The incumbents will only step far enough away to get out of responsibilities, but will keep a toe in enough to exercise control and get [more] future tax benefits. Even if they relinquish the control, and actually allow a new ISP, they aren’t going to hand over the tax dollars they took/kept in advance of service delivery to a newcomer. Hard wireline deployment is expensive, and a newcomer may also have to contend with the cable provider just to access the existing infrastructure (and who knows what kinds of arrangements existing telcos and cable companies have over access that they will use to frustrate possible competition). If they want to abandon their wireline services, then they should be held to the exact same terms I mentioned above in exchange for deregulation, and ensure one-touch make-ready legislation is passed universally.

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