The Transition Will Especially Impact Rural Americans and Small Businesses
The new pattern of carriers eager to replace existing networks with new, untested technologies after natural disasters or when wireline networks have simply been allowed to degrade will have especially strong consequences for rural Americans and small businesses. Rural areas depend on wireline services more than most, especially because wireless deployment--even beyond its general limitations compared to wireline service--is not very strong in rural areas. And when a rural community loses a wireline service provider that offered DSL or other broadband service, there is rarely any competing service to turn to for continued internet access. At the very least, the rural farmers who grow our food should know that they will be able to make phone calls and access the internet when needed to check weather patterns, predict crop growth, and make business arrangements to harvest and transport crops. This also impacts more than just rural communities themselves--when farmers are arranging food shipments to your town, do you want them to lose service?
The recent rural call completion problem also reminds us that rural communities may bear the brunt of unexpected complications tied to the IP transition, with potentially devastating consequences. As carriers switch to IP technology, it becomes possible for them to route calls through Least Cost Router systems, creating latency and sometimes trapping calls in perpetual loops so calls to or from rural areas do not go through. The Commission has rightly recognized that this issue speaks to our foundational expectation that the phone network will be reliable for all Americans, including those in rural areas, and has opened a proceeding to learn more about exactly why the rural call completion problem is getting worse. n3 But even so, the
This is why we need rules of the road: problems will inevitably arise as old systems fade away and new ones arise, but carriers have clearly shown that we cannot simply assume that companies will voluntarily defend the fundamental principles that have made our communications networks great. Meanwhile, 25 states have eliminated or reduced state commission authority over telecommunications services, and 12 states (all of which are in AT&T's incumbent local exchange carrier territory) have eliminated or reduced carrier of last resort obligations. n5 Particularly where the states have effectively written themselves out of the conversation through deregulation, everyday Americans are relying on federal authorities as their sole defender to protect the reliable, affordable communications access they count on.
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