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The Dismantling of POTS: Bold Move Or Grave Error?

timothy posted about 10 months ago | from the hard-to-cook-without-pots dept.

Communications 582

New submitter TheRealHocusLocus writes "The FCC is drafting rules to formalize the process of transition of 'last-mile' subscriber circuits to digital IP-based data streams. The move is lauded by AT&T Chairman Tom Wheeler who claims that significant resources are spent to maintain 'legacy' POTS service, though some 100 million still use it. POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure? Despite its analog limitations POTS switches have enforced the use of hard-coded local exchanges and equipment that will faithfully complete local calls even if its network connections are down. But do these IP phones deliver the same promise? For that matter, is any single local cell tower isolated from its parent network of use to anyone at all? I have had a difficult time finding answers to this question, and would love savvy Slashdot folks to weigh in: In a disaster that isolates the community from outside or partitions the country's connectivity — aside from local Plain Old Telephone Service, how many IP and cell phones would continue to function?"

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I hate phones ANYWAY. (4, Funny)

flyneye (84093) | about 10 months ago | (#45560769)

SH*T or get off the POTS.

Re:I hate phones ANYWAY. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560829)

Yes, communication is stupid. Well said.

My First FRiST P0sT!1!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560773)

Really, why do we think that POTS would continue if we were partitioned or that data lines were taken down?

History.... learn from it! (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 10 months ago | (#45560819)

Really, why do we think that POTS would continue if we were partitioned or that data lines were taken down?

Because POTS will work in some of the worst environmental conditions possible. It survived the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has been through hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even meteor strikes and kept working. Yes, some parts of the system failed, but for those parts that were still connected as long as a local power source (often just a battery bank) supplied power the system kept working.

It was on the back of the POTS system that the internet was born, and has always been a backup to every computer network system... even if it wasn't perfect at least *something* would get through in terms of data.

Re:History.... learn from it! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560881)

In the Northeast, ice storms can take out the entire phone line infrastructure. How is this reliable? Even then, the POTS system is only copper from the pole to your junction box. The rest of the system consists of, typically far more delicate, fiberoptic lines.

The resiliency of the phone system is just not the same that it used to be.

Re:History.... learn from it! (3, Insightful)

PimpBot (32046) | about 10 months ago | (#45560955)

The Northeast US is notoriously cheap and short-sighted (and I say that having spent most of my life in this region). If power/phone/etc. were installed underground instead of strung up on toothpicks, surrounded by trees that are never trimmed, the infrastructure would be far more reliable.

Re: History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561061)

And should something underground happen, repair costs and times are much much higher

Re:History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561171)

The Northeast US is notoriously cheap and short-sighted (and I say that having spent most of my life in this region). If power/phone/etc. were installed underground instead of strung up on toothpicks, surrounded by trees that are never trimmed, the infrastructure would be far more reliable.

Yep. The telephone, electrical, and other utility lines should have been underground a decade ago. But companies are too short-sighted.

Re:History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560907)

Yeah, but the POTS systems at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been mechanical exchanges. All that is gone is now. Exchanges are already computers.

This is just the last mile. Your POTS phone is basically just a VOIP phone with a looooooong cable for the ear/mouth-piece.

Re:History.... learn from it! (2)

xaxa (988988) | about 10 months ago | (#45560981)

Really, why do we think that POTS would continue if we were partitioned or that data lines were taken down?

Because POTS will work in some of the worst environmental conditions possible. It survived the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Did you just make that up? "The telephone system was approximately 80% damaged, and no service was restored until 15 August." http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/MED/med_chp9.shtml [atomicarchive.com]

You can make the same points on resiliency for the Internet. The question is, is it worth continuing to maintain POTS, and if not, should we extend the resiliency of the Internet within smaller regions.

Re: History.... learn from it! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561027)

I would add that the systems running voice, data, and SMS are crazy complicated and can fail in many, many more ways than POTS.

I managed the auth systems and data core for a cell service, and it seemed like a damn miracle the thing worked at all.

I honestly think that half the time cell service seems slow or unreliable, its actually the backend systems that are failing. We just all have lower expectations for wireless service, so we assume the problem is poor signal or network congestion.

Re:History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561159)

Really, why do we think that POTS would continue if we were partitioned or that data lines were taken down?

Because POTS will work in some of the worst environmental conditions possible. It survived the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has been through hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even meteor strikes and kept working. Yes, some parts of the system failed, but for those parts that were still connected as long as a local power source (often just a battery bank) supplied power the system kept working.

It was on the back of the POTS system that the internet was born, and has always been a backup to every computer network system... even if it wasn't perfect at least *something* would get through in terms of data.

This is the primary reason I miss dial-up MODEMs, USENET, and bulletin board systems. I am serious but I remember installing Debian GNU/Linux via dial-up MODEM; the process took most of a day.

Re:History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561299)

Which took longer - downloading the installation 20 floppies, or installing from them? I remember doing that, but forget which part was slower. ;-}

YMMV

Re:History.... learn from it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561279)

What about ham radio?

my point of view (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560833)

When the "point" to the carrier is about charging per call, which requires their monitoring of usage, it's hard for them to do that without a datacenter logging the call activity, and permitting, say, a "long distance" call to go through. Yet it is not cost effective to install such a datacenter in each local region, is it? So if a disaster strikes, and the local telco can't determine if I payed my bill or not this month, why should it let me make a call? -- Not saying this is good, but I suspect this is how it goes down. If it does let me make a call in such a situation, then would someone who doesn't subscribe to telephone service suddenly get a dialtone on their line when the disaster strikes? I highly doubt it.

Re:My First FRiST P0sT!1!! -- with pride. (4, Insightful)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 10 months ago | (#45561047)

AC: Really, why do we think that POTS would continue if we were partitioned or that data lines were taken down?

Good question, although I Sens an odd bit of d3r1s1ve m0ckery from yous.

Because it was built that way. Your local bell telephone exchange was designed to stand alone and not just provide electricity to operate telephones. From that single building It completes calls between its own subscribers and those in other directly-connected exchanges, even if long haul circuits are down.

But in the digital subscriber age we are starting to see roll-outs of nationwide services that only appear to be local. They demonstrate sudden, surprising, even shocking failure. Router restarts, failures to push software updates, failure to connect to centralized RADIUS servers, failure to complete DSL login and even failure of DNS lookup within the telco's own Internet can cause confusion and backlogs that disrupt IP phone service.

I grant that no mob with torches has ever marched up to the Phone Company and demanded that they pull the plug to prove that the service they provide is resilient to inter-network failure.

In fact, these vulnerabilities extend to the use of local; electrical power. I have known a few people who buy in to these IP-phones supplied by the local cable company who are shocked to discover that it stops functioning soon after their electricity goes out. And it's not just a house thing, a MERE few hours into an ice storm many pole-mounted cable company amplifiers that rely on city power depleted their (may I say, 'dipshit'?) battery packs and whole neighborhoods lost their phones regardless of whether they had emergency power.

Meanwhile the POTS providers who had sunk a larger investment into provisioning their remote buildings, carried enough batteries to keep going for a couple of days.

What we have here is a general attention to infrastructure and disaster preparedness in the interest of rolling out things that work almost as well, most of the time.

Not that useful anyways (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560797)

At least in my region, POTS isn't that useful in the event of severe weather/tragedy. The batteries they place in the boxes to handle calls in the event of a power outage last only a few hours.

Re: Not that useful anyways (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561073)

The batteries should only have to last a few minutes until the backup generators come online. I talked to a guy in charge of a phone switch and he said they had two generators that could handle the full load while the other one was down, three days of fuel on site, and priority contracts with four fuel suppliers meaning the phone switch would get fuel before gas stations in the event of a disaster or shortage.

Isn't the "last mile" the only non-IP part? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560805)

Or at least the only circuit-switched part. The connections from the central office to the rest of the network, and the core of the telephone system itself, has been packet-switched for a while now. Or so I thought. Am I mistaken?

Cell phoe reliability (2)

wb8nbs (174741) | about 10 months ago | (#45560821)

Cellular phone networks are hugely over subscribed. In a large scale emergency like a hurricane when everybody is calling, they become useless.

Re:Cell phoe reliability (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 10 months ago | (#45560869)

So are POTS. Especially for long distance.

The big argument against dropping POTS is that cellular is simply not available everywhere you need a phone. In basements. In rural areas. Yes, you can bypass those limitations but I'm not seeing any legislation that forces the Really Big Corporations to do that.

Guarantee that everyone who needs a phone line can get reception, work on your redundancy and backup, nail the corporate weasels down tight and no problemo.

Otherwise, leave the damned wires alone.

Re:Cell phoe reliability (3, Informative)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 10 months ago | (#45561045)

This isn't about dropping POTS in favor of wireless. It is about using VOIP instead of POTS, wiring still required.

It is a terrible idea (1, Insightful)

ruir (2709173) | about 10 months ago | (#45560827)

To dismantle a network that works so well, can keep work in a case of a disaster, power failure and civil unrest, and has proved itself so resilient over time. I guess it is a matter of money, and listen be able to listen to conversations in a central point, however from the point of a backup of service, and redundancy of operations this decision is a disaster.

Re: It is a terrible idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561095)

They aren't removing it, they're changing the analog "last mile" to VoIP. Other than that the 'POTS' system stays as it currently is.
I know, reading and comprehension is so fucking hard isn't it? :)

Re: It is a terrible idea (1)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about 10 months ago | (#45561293)

And unless you have a generator to power your phone and router connecting to the last mile you are SOTL in an emergency.

Cell phones are better in a disaster (5, Interesting)

thesandbender (911391) | about 10 months ago | (#45560835)

1. If a hurricane/tornado/earthquake/what-have-you destroys your POTS infrastructure, it can take weeks or months to rebuild it. You can restore cell service in matter of hours with a mobile cell site.
2. The same applies to your house. What good is a fixed, "simple" phone if your house isn't there any more?
3. One of the biggest issues when a disaster strikes is locating people. POTS doesn't do anything to help with this.

POTS was great but it's had it's time and we need to stop supporting it and move on newer technologies.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (5, Insightful)

Lisias (447563) | about 10 months ago | (#45560921)

Good points.

On the other hand, cell phones are useless a few hours after a electrical blackout (as no one will be able to charge their phones), while thousand of POTS users (ha! I can't avoid smiling while typing it!) can be served using a big enough diesel generator.

Hell broke havoc in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo em 2009 [wikipedia.org] . Cell phones were useless because *everybody* (and the neighbor's kitten) was trying to call someone by cellphone to call for help or simply tranquilize their relatives. The ones tha managed to do that were the ones with analog phone lines (as the analog phone operators can redirect their power supplies in order to keep the phone lines working).

At that time, I already had switched my analog phone line to a VOIP one. My relatives lives far away, and I managed to call them 4 or 5 hours later, thanks to a very kind supermarket manager that borrowed me a power plug from the place (they have a diesel generator) to charge my pretty, advanced but useless smartbrick, I mean, smartphone.

There's no single, easy and cheap answers to complex problems.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (3, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 10 months ago | (#45560969)

On the other hand, cell phones are useless a few hours after a electrical blackout (as no one will be able to charge their phones)

Cell phones can be *immediately* useless in an electrical blackout, because cell towers are grid dependent and often do not have battery backup. Some do, and the phone companies have mobile tower units they can send out to supplement towers that are out, but still, the cell network doesn't "just work" in a blackout the way POTS does.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (5, Insightful)

thesandbender (911391) | about 10 months ago | (#45560985)

I'm actually speaking from experience. I live in NYC and last year during Sandy we ran into many of the problems you describe. Business and Individuals in areas that still had power were setting out extension cords and power strips for people to recharge their phones. Mobile generators can be used for the same purpose (and growing up in Texas it was my experience that most people in isolated rural areas either already have a portable generator or know someone close by that does).

The situation you described in Rio and Sao Paulo is not unique to cell phones. POTs systems have a limit on how many calls they can support as well, the dreaded "all circuits are busy message" here in the states. The reason POTs lines are less susceptible to that now is that fewer people are using them so it doesn't happen as often. A common solution to this is to tell people just to text instead of making calls, that helps reduce the load on the cellular infrastructure.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (1)

FaxeTheCat (1394763) | about 10 months ago | (#45561035)

A common solution to this is to tell people just to text instead of making calls, that helps reduce the load on the cellular infrastructure.

Texting instead of talking will also reduce battery drain, so in an emergency, any phone with decent battery should last at least a few days.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (1)

Lisias (447563) | about 10 months ago | (#45561135)

Text "HELP" to 911 with a thug breaking in on you home. Or while having a heart attack! ;-)

Be my guest. Try it. =P

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561295)

In case of wide area emergency (natural disaster, civil unrest), huge percentage of communication is reassuring relatives that you are OK. This can be done with text message.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (3, Insightful)

Lisias (447563) | about 10 months ago | (#45561119)

As I said, there's no single, easy and cheap solution for complex problems. :-)

Anyway, you missed the point. Sandy was a grain of dust compared to the 2009's Brazil blackout. Go to wikipedia and give a peek on the red painted map - the area is equivalent to 1/3 of the continual USA!

No one managed to borrow a plug from nowhere, as nobody (except the one with diesel generators) had power to lend in a 100 miles radius!

The problem you described ("all circuits are busy") can be overcome to restricting the service to communitarian and emergency services phones. How do you propose this can be done using cell phones?

Take in consideration that I'm not advocating the "end of cell phones". I just arguing that cell phones, ALONE, will not be reliable in emergency situations. The really bad ones.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560977)

> 1. If a hurricane/tornado/earthquake/what-have-you destroys your POTS infrastructure, it can take weeks or months to rebuild it.

This. Anyone who wants to understand why the telcos are so keen to move from copper to fiber needs to read the following article:

http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/17/3655442/restoring-verizon-service-manhattan-hurricane-sandy

Certainly some of the motivation goes back to offering "over the top" services like television, but trying to repair/replace miles of legacy copper that's been rendered useless by any number of natural catastrophes without going bankrupt will be near the top of the list.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (1)

john_uy (187459) | about 10 months ago | (#45560995)

This is what happened with typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. The local telcos were able to provide cellphone coverage through a mobile cell site. I'm sure all the electric poles are down and pretty much the last mile will be disconnected even though the exchange might still be working. Though electricity will be restored months from now, cellphone will be much convenient at the moment compared to restoring pots service which could take a very long time.

I guess pots will work when there are major blackouts and not in disasters where last mile will get cut.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (1)

tcmatthews_jr (1375003) | about 10 months ago | (#45561003)

This comes from experience. Cell phones are completely useless after a Hurricane. First Emergency and Government take them over for emergency communications. So that only SMS text messages work. Second the backup powers only last around 3 days. Then there are no cell signals. POTS are required by regulation to be up so AT&T brought in generators to service the lines which were sensibly below ground and not damaged.

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561051)

A cell tower requires more infrastructure to actually complete a call than what is on the tower itself. The brains are located more centrally, like in the nearest CO.

If a CO is taken out, it's bad for the area... and the local cell towers.

If a CO is NOT taken down, it has all the infrastructure required in order to complete calls for its local area, which is what the OP stated -- even if that CO is segregated from every other one. COs are also more hardened than a tower can be and have more batteries and likely has a local generator. In the northeast blackout (2003), keeping cell towers powered required moving generators around to each tower in order to keep them running for a few more hours.

common carrier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561065)

While the above is true, there are times that the cell phone network doesn't work and the wired does in the same disasters.

There is another difference - POTS have protection under law that VOIP/Cell does not. If the POTS fails, one can file with the FCC about the failure. The FCC doesn't care in the same ways about VOIP.

(over Thanksgiving an associate was trying to figure out to structure a lawsuit over the unwillingness of the Internet providers to accept the same level of common carrier status/responsibility for the Internet service as they had accepted for POTS. If anyone has ideas, feel free to post.)

Re:Cell phones are better in a disaster (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 10 months ago | (#45561271)

True, but disasters that physically destroy the system's infrastructure and/or significant amounts of local structures are (on the scale of a given nation) very rare events, and highly localized even then (unless the nation is fairly small or the event unusually large). They're the very edge of edge cases.

Much more common are events the leave a given location or large portions of a region without power for hours to days - and in those cases, your cell is useless when the battery dies. (I'm covered, I have a generator. Not everyone does, or even lives where the can have one.) In my area, those events are actually quite common, occurring during winter storms about two years out of any given five. In every single event, the POTS has remained functional throughout.

POTS may be an old technology, but it's had many years and many opportunities to refine it's design and increase it's robustness... Cell phones and systems aren't nearly so reliable. (One of the reasons I still have my POTS even though I own a cell is that I'm in something of a coverage gap due to local geography.)

"Bold Move Or Grave Error?" (5, Insightful)

Lisias (447563) | about 10 months ago | (#45560839)

Probably both.

It's hard to keep analog transmission lines when you can transmit thousands of times the same information using a digital channel that costs the same (or even less).

But communication is not *just* about cheapness, it's about reliability. Analog lines are far more resilient than digital lines, and a wise one should take this in consideration on the long term.

A cheap telephone line that I can't use when I really need is a useless telephone line.

by the way, are you americans happy with your broadband internet connection? What do you think it will happen with your telephone services when it will be serviced using the same technology by the same players your Internet connection is served now?

Re:"Bold Move Or Grave Error?" (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561049)

I know, it's AC, so nobody will see this; however, ...

We can all see the excellent strides AT&T have made in providing IPv6 to their residential customers. And the excellent strides providing fiber to the home.

In case you don't deal with AT&T, both of these statements are highly laden with scarcasam. To point, AT&T have been pretending to give a dam about IPv6 for nearly a decade now, and were beaten in putting fiber to the home by their competitors Verizon, and even now by Google.

Sure, they roll out such technologies to a few residences in response to being "technologically behind", but the number of residences who receive such items are so low that one would think it's only been deployed to the homes of AT&T corporate executives.

Re:"Bold Move Or Grave Error?" (1)

Lisias (447563) | about 10 months ago | (#45561165)

Well, I read it. :-)

Depends on the disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560845)

In some cases a cell tower is easier to replace. A simple truck with a generator and an extension tower can get cell phones up and running for a small area.

Compare that to trying to redo several miles of phone and electrical cabling.

Of course the generator and extension tower still need to get to the disaster area. Then again if you can't get a generator and extension tower into the area, how likely are to get a fleet truck needed to restring the phone and electrical cables?

Re:Depends on the disaster (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561081)

Those cell-sites-in-a-truck/trailer have more equipment than your normal cell tower. A cell tower in of itself cannot complete a call -- it's not like a wifi AP.

There is some value in the power of rudundancy. (0)

xystren (522982) | about 10 months ago | (#45560855)

Especially with the governments overarching reach. Wonder how long communications would last when the gov't presses that internet kill switch (which they claim they don't have - yeah, perhaps a bit tinfoil hat wearing, but after all, we were all assured there were no illegal phone monitoring/data harvesting either). Guess we should all go back to shortwave radio - unfortunately it has become a lost art now a days.

Re:There is some value in the power of rudundancy. (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about 10 months ago | (#45560923)

...perhaps a bit tinfoil hat wearing

More like a giant tinfoil sombrero with little dangly tinfoil balls around the rim, all while you dance to an imaginary mariachi band.

Guess we should all go back to shortwave radio - unfortunately it has become a lost art now a days.

After the apocalypse, the few remaining practitioners will be able to trade communications services for sexual favors and repopulate the globe with little geek babies.

Re: There is some value in the power of rudundancy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561143)

The apocalypse just got a whole lot sexier.. oh yeah!

It's all about the money! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560863)

Don't forget the new FCC guy was a lobbyist for the industry. If POTS has to be removed and phone companies are "forced," to comply with new installations and the billions that will cost, they will want Federal subsidies. Do I hear the phone companies shouting "Bingo."

Nah, that's all to cynical. :O

"Can you hear me now?" (5, Insightful)

mariox19 (632969) | about 10 months ago | (#45560865)

The call quality on both cell phones and IP phones is worse than those on traditional phone lines. IP phones echo and stutter. Cell phones give no aural feedback in the earpiece of the person speaking, which is why everyone is always yelling over their cell phone, and cut out when no one is speaking, which sounds like a dropped call. I think anyone who enjoyed two, three, or more decades in the last century, making phone calls over POTS lines, would agree that we have taken a step back in call quality. Every phone call is like an overseas call from the 1970's. Pulling up the POTS lines would be a mistake.

Re:"Can you hear me now?" (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | about 10 months ago | (#45560941)

Indeed so, I often have trouble understanding people on cell phones.

But it's not as though landlines are great sounding - G.711 isn't exactly high fidelity. Of course, to use anything better we'd need to have digital all the way to the home - but then we've got that for internet access.

Here in the UK, the major phone compant (BT) had a big plan to roll out a new network (21CN) to integrate all data & voice services on a new IP based network. After much fanfare they quietly dropped the voice part, which as far as I know is still running on the old circuit switched hardware. Apparently it's not so easy.

Re:"Can you hear me now?" (2)

careysb (566113) | about 10 months ago | (#45561247)

Absolutely! Talking on a cell phone is often like talking on a walkie-talkie, --over-- The pauses and delay are extremely annoying --over--

So, if the phone companies will save "vast" amounts of money by doing away with POTS, they why aren't they upgrading their lines already on their dime? Are they waiting for the tax payer to foot the bill? And by "lines", I mean replacing the last mile of copper with fiber, not cell phones.

Self-contradiction... (2, Insightful)

mi (197448) | about 10 months ago | (#45560871)

POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage [emphasis mine]. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure?

We'd be replacing one highly centralized system with a different one. Hardly a problem in itself.

Re:Self-contradiction... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561129)

POTS is actually a distributed system. Each CO can complete calls in its local area without any outside information (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_telephone_service) -- a Class 5 switch is what does this (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_5_telephone_switches).

Re:Self-contradiction... (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 10 months ago | (#45561177)

POTS, or 'Plain Old Telephone Service,' is the analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage [emphasis mine]. I cannot fault progress, in fact I'm part of the problem: I gave up my dial tone a couple years ago because I needed cell and could not afford to keep both. But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other, in favor of systems that rely on centralized (and distant) points of failure?

We'd be replacing one highly centralized system with a different one. Hardly a problem in itself.

[Parent's emphasis retained]
 
If the current POTS were highly centralized - you'd have a point. But it isn't, it's widely distributed. The ring-and-talk voltage for my analog POTS phone comes from a phone center just a few miles away. Folks at the south end of the county have their own center, as do the folks at the north end of the county, etc... etc... (If an accident or disaster severs our links to the outside world, our local system continues to operate just fine.) Will this be true of an IP based network?
 
And that's the real key as to whether or not an IP based system is sufficient replacement for the POTS - will it provide equivalent support (I.E. will it continue to work even if I lose power to my house as the current system does), and will it fail (at the system level) as gracefully? While I doubt the POTS is entirely bulletproof, short of damage that physically destroys the system (which are rare event indeed, even on the national scale) it's robust as hell. After all, they've had over a century to refine the design.

Wire is good (4, Insightful)

pcjunky (517872) | about 10 months ago | (#45560873)

Remember that the wire used to deliver POTS service also delivers DSL. No wire, no DSL.

Right worry, wrong place (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560875)

Rather than thinking of only traditional landline phones, we should make sure we reach everyone during a disaster. Huge number of people don't have a landline or an antenna. Others may be trapped under ruble or an a rooftop with nothing except a cell phone. An emergency fleet of high altitude balloons to carry cell signals would do more in a disaster than POTS.

Wrong Identification in Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560877)

Tom Wheeler is FCC chairman, not AT&T chairman as posted in the summary.

Re:Wrong Identification in Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560945)

There's a distinction between the two positions?! Who knew!

Re:Wrong Identification in Summary (5, Informative)

crunchygranola (1954152) | about 10 months ago | (#45561099)

No, not At&T chairman, nor even a former At&T chairman. Instead is the former President and CEO of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and former President and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Head of both the cable and cell phone industry lobbying groups! What's not to love?

Answer: None (2)

MrKaos (858439) | about 10 months ago | (#45560879)

The fittest technology for the task is one that answers to the lowest available technology for the task. While I'm all for cheap internet phone calls, I'm also the first to admit that it is not for everyone and won't deal with many users out there. Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

Making it so does put the emphasis on the user to provide some of the infrastructure that the telcos usually provide, thus saving them money, i.e costing you money, so that the revenues can be driven even higher. The real issue though is supporting emergency phone calls reliably when lives are on the line and whether the backbone technology for the telcos is suitable for the last mile to Joe Caller.

Re:Answer: None (2)

JBMcB (73720) | about 10 months ago | (#45560971)

Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

I *almost* agree. Saying we should keep POTS until it can be replaced with fiber, however, is like saying everyone should stick with driving Yugos until it becomes feasible for everyone to buy a Ferrari. Wireless technologies are a good interim solution until fiber can be deployed ubiquitously, especially in very low density areas.

Re:Answer: None (4, Insightful)

crunchygranola (1954152) | about 10 months ago | (#45561117)

Until fiber optic cable cable to the home is as common as copper it won't be a suitable replacement for POTS.

I *almost* agree. Saying we should keep POTS until it can be replaced with fiber, however, is like saying everyone should stick with driving Yugos until it becomes feasible for everyone to buy a Ferrari. Wireless technologies are a good interim solution until fiber can be deployed ubiquitously, especially in very low density areas.

And I *almost* agree with this. I have this one caveat: that a wireless interim solution actually be implemented before POTS is killed. If the data transmission corporations want to kill POTS they should be eager to cooperate in setting up an adequate replacement in terms of coverage, accessibility and reliability.

Epic Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560885)

This is a terrible idea.

Sure, it's possible to get by with all IP or wireless. But, you open up many more possibilities when you also have the analog infrastructure, which is ALREADY IN PLACE!

Re:Epic Fail (1)

FaxeTheCat (1394763) | about 10 months ago | (#45561085)

But, you open up many more possibilities when you also have the analog infrastructure, which is ALREADY IN PLACE!

Not quite. Where I live, new houses will get only digital lines. Besides, a lot of people drop house phones anyway. When everybody in the household has a mobile phone, the POTS phone is simply not used, so why pay to keep it?
I have not had analog phone line for more than 10 years.

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560887)

But digital makes it so much easier for the snoops at the FBI and NSA to record and store our data.

Why (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 10 months ago | (#45560891)

Well, why doesn't Verizon include it in a bundle?

wire-sneaker-mobile relay (1)

LolaRennt (744331) | about 10 months ago | (#45560899)

Our township is on the end of a long telephone line which not infrequently goes down. As does much of the power The local mobile mast will cease functionig immediatey - even though it still provides a signal and connects phones. The local exchange continues for several days. On one occasion like this we set up a wire-sneaker-mobile relay where someone on the edge of our area was able to get a mobile signal at the far end of the yard and had a working local phone connection in the house. The local doctor would call them on the landline from their practice, they would run down to the end of the yard and phone from there by mobile to ambulance control. We tested it, but fortunately never needed to use it in earnest.

Same number (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about 10 months ago | (#45560905)

Of cells would work as POTS would be useful should a line go down.

Well (1)

JustOK (667959) | about 10 months ago | (#45560917)

As long as we keep the semaphore towers. Also, I heard there's a Mountie in Canada that is apparently still on the POTS and it's causing all kinds of problems. He can't use the phone if he's wearing his uniform or something like that.

POTS... (5, Informative)

gerardrj (207690) | about 10 months ago | (#45560931)

Isn't as plain or old as you make it out to be. I'm about 2 miles from my CO but my phone line terminates in a climate controlled cabinet about 1,000ft from my house. That's the end of the line for my pair where the line is powered, digitized and bridged to fiber for the haul back to the CO.
Even without that the addition of DSL about 2 decades ago added a lot of complexity to the system with DSLAMs and other digital equipment. Much of that digital stuff was spliced in between the switch and CPE on the CO or line side, but it was still there.

The COs I've been in also don't use the card coded switches you seem to be talking to; they use gigantic digital affairs that are all basically computers and handle not only the line pair for voice, but DST, T and D trunks, interoffice signaling and such.

The reason this stuff is all so resilient is the power supply. Nothing in the CO runs on wall voltage; it's all -48vDC and runs from a battery bank the size of a small house. The batteries are constantly charged from mains at the rate of their depletion by the equipment. In case of power failure where they batteries are being drawn down a generator auto-starts and switches from mains to local power to re-charge the batteries. Note that in this setup the load equipment is never switched from one power source to another (a major single-point of failure).

That said... Im not against reforming or eliminate the last vestiges of POTS.Less that 1/3 of the population HAS it and I'd bet even less than that actually use it. By that I mean that I think less than 1/10th of the US population has a telephone in their house that will work solely from CO power on the line pair without a wall wart.

Get an Amateur Radio license (5, Informative)

Beacon11 (1499015) | about 10 months ago | (#45560933)

And learn to charge your batteries without the power grid. I think that's what you're looking for here-- POTS won't last long during a catastrophe.

Re:Get an Amateur Radio license (1)

module0000 (882745) | about 10 months ago | (#45561275)

Came here to say this same thing. An inexpensive solar panel and handheld transistor solves this problem.

You can talk to your neighboring towns, other operators, and [in a real emergency, FCC regs out the window] anyone with a FM/AM radio turned on. If you have a appropriate antenna and power, you can talk to the other side of the planet. Why don't more people get into amateur radio? It's terribly practical.

If you don't mind getting the FCC at your doorstep, you could even transmit to the ISS and complain about your local emergency :)

This should be amusing (1, Insightful)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | about 10 months ago | (#45560951)

We live in a remote area. There are two cell towers (AT&T and Verizon) in the county seat. They cover some, but not all of the local area. At our house, AT&T cell is blocked by a mountain. We get a little knife edge refraction signal, but you can't count on it. As far as using it for 911 calls, the idea is just silly.

If they get rid of the POTS, they pretty much get rid of phone service. Internet comes in by an rf link. We're pretty much the last house in the canyon we live in to get rf link internet or cell service. Everybody else uses smoke signals, satellite internet, or POTS.

Why doesn't the FCC do something useful, like bug the White House phones, and let the free market take care of the POTS demand?

Re:This should be amusing (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561067)

Let the 'free market' take care of pots demand? Without government subsidies, the copper wouldn't have been strung out to your middle-of-nowhere canyon house in the first place, and certainly wouldn't be maintained over the long term. Your terrible cell service is an example of the 'free market' handling it. I'm not arguing with your conclusion, just questioning whether it really gets what you're after.

Re:This should be amusing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561173)

You will most likely not lose your POTs service unless an IP based equivalent were available and reliable. The FCC is not going to allow people to just be cut off. This could actually be a blessing for you in that it would force telcos to build IP based infrastructure to more rural locations, brining you "out of the canyon".

Re:This should be amusing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561227)

Agreeing with the AC here (oops, other AC, I've forgotten to sign in). The universal subscriber fee that is charged to consumers on cell service is what got you the POTS service in the first place, coupled with a government mandate to bring POTS to remote rural locations. On the other hand, the rollout of cell phone service and fiber to the home is entirely due to the way the free market works - it's just not cost effective to stick a tower out by you, presumably, because there aren't enough users to warrant the cost.

disconnected cell tower (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560957)

To directly answer the OP's question, a cell tower that has lost connectivity to the back end gear (e.g. PDSN and HA for data), the tower will be effectively worthless.

The cells do not work as a p2p network; tunnels are built to the backend gear for everything, including the home location register the telcos use to know which carrier services your phone.

Wow. Let's celebrate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45560973)

Consumers, Silicon Valley, and the phone companies all agree on something for a change. POTS' shelf life expired about fifteen years ago.

time to retire (1)

Spazmania (174582) | about 10 months ago | (#45560979)

The technology is ready to retire. The impediment is regulatory -- without FCC oversight, delivery of last-mile infrastructure becomes thoroughly anticompetitive, a process which has repeated itself over and over again this past half century. POTS and twisted pair has been the last vestige of deregulation in the sector, to the detriment of the public and MUCH to the detriment of inventors and small business.

depends on the company. (3, Insightful)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 10 months ago | (#45561001)

there are two lines of thought.

sensible and socially responsible:
why disable an existing and working system that has advantages over the new system? at the very least, make outgoing calls free for emergency purposes.

shortsighted asshole capitalist:
it costs money to maintain, so just unplug it as soon as contractually possible. when they somehow manage to call your support staff, tell them that they will need to upgrade to your cable internet + VOIP service and transfer them to sales. if they are rural and thus too far out to actually make a profit from installing new cabling, tell them they cant get it and politely hang up. be sure to use your hired company that keeps track of online forums and rating sites to blast anyone that is upset.

which do you think your telecom is going to fall under?

POTS quit being POTS a long time ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561005)

In the old days POTS was the entire way...now POTS is just the last 0.25-5 miles

If you lose the ability to route network IP traffic you lose the current access to the last 0.25-5 miles of POTS and you also lose the IP phones...so the POTS does not really reduce any failure points (any more). The POTS are ran on the same wires as the IP to the house so that does not reduce any single points of failure. There is really no advantage to it any more since it long since quit being a redundant path.

RIP POTS (2)

multimediavt (965608) | about 10 months ago | (#45561011)

Technologies come and go. I didn't see folks up in arms when the roaming knife sharpeners and milk delivery men went out of business. Those going away destroyed jobs. Moving from POTS to digital IP-based communications is a good thing. The digital service can be restored a lot faster, and there are excellent cell phone tower replacements. [wikipedia.org]

The only thing really lost is local 911 services. Those things were a disaster waiting to happen, anyway, as the cost of the analog infrastructure was killing localities as they tried to grow. Something better needs to be implemented and sooner is always better than later.

The one advantage POTS has is that it does take a court order for them to tap the line. But, I am guessing that laws will be changing soon and some of our privacy and security concerns will get addressed. Again, sooner is always better than later.

inaccuracies (2)

chipperdog (169552) | about 10 months ago | (#45561021)

They are not proposing replacement with cell service, but with wired IP. IP based telephony is LESS centralized than analog pots, and is easier to setup redundancy, and has better audio quality (when g.722 or g.729 codecs are used).... The main drawbacks are there is no longer a central battery for all stations, and phone sets need more complex electronics....

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561087)

This. The telcos need to get rid of their A-to-D switching banks, a technology which is about 50 years old. Let's let them. Grandma is going to have to upgrade to DSL.

POWER (2)

scorp1us (235526) | about 10 months ago | (#45561053)

POTS supplies its own power. So now insead one one connection worki g you need two connections. VoIP data and some ki d of power, and they have to both be working at the same time.

BTW the cheapest VoIP provider if you are just trying to hold onto a number is callcentric at $3.95/mo incl 911 and pay per minute.

Re:POWER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561225)

POTS supplies its own power. So now insead one one connection worki g you need two connections. VoIP data and some ki d of power, and they have to both be working at the same time.

BTW the cheapest VoIP provider if you are just trying to hold onto a number is callcentric at $3.95/mo incl 911 and pay per minute.

What really concerns me from your post is the unreliable 'n' in your keyboard. "worki g" clearly gives away its faulty behavior, then again "ki d", but later, baaam: "and". How's that even possible?

Re:POWER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561301)

Actually the cheapest is probably Google Voice - absolutely free if you use a computer, or you can purchase a device like an Obihai once and continue using your legacy phones in the house.

ummm (1)

sjwt (161428) | about 10 months ago | (#45561059)

"But what concerns me is, are we poised to dismantle systems that are capable of standing alone to keep communities and regions 'in-touch' with each other"

I dont know where you live or what magic technology you use, but Telephones have never been stand alone, except in a small number of direct wired locations such as internal coms or maybe some major military back ups. You pick up a phone to dial or connect, and Point B needs to handle your connection to Point c.

IP telephony sucks (4, Interesting)

Zakabog (603757) | about 10 months ago | (#45561077)

As someone who builds and installs large phone systems for a living, I cringe whenever a customer tells me "Yeah we've got a T1, coming in over Time Warner."

A traditional copper PRI from Verizon is the ideal service I like most of my customers to have, I never get anywhere near the same level complaints of call quality issues or service outages for a traditional PRI that I get for any PRI coming in over the internet. Well, except after hurricane Sandy, after that storm we had a number of customers switch over to an IP based PRI or a pure SIP solution. It made sense since it took Verizon months to fix their wiring, but a lot of these customers that switched wanted to immediately switch back as soon as Verizon was available again since the quality was so god awful.

I have no problem with Verizon using fiber and IP based telephony in the back end since I they're not going to be able to maintain their legacy equipment forever. But, don't send everything down the same pipe and just install a $200 Adtran on-site and expect it to be anywhere near as reliable. Especially since a lot of the support engineers for these carriers have no idea how to do anything with an IAD. I've had support engineers tell me I need to send a SIP redirect to forward calls out with the proper caller ID, well sure I'd love to except I'm being handed a PRI and the SIP side of things is all them.

Anyway, for customers that have rock solid internet and a separate dedicated pipe for a SIP trunk, I have no problem going native SIP all the way to our equipment. My problem is when someone out in the boonies thinks they'll save a ton of money switching to VoIP service from their cable provider. Instead it just means dozens of billable hours trying to explain to this customer that while their internet service is excellent for checking Facebook, good voice quality requires a solid internet connection with little to no packet loss and very low latency and nothing we can do to their PBX will change that. Although as one coworker pointed out, as the number of people who grew up using cell phones all their life increases, the less complaints we will receive. People who are used to POTS lines are going to be used to picking up a phone and having excellent call quality, people who grew up with cell phones are much more accustomed to jitter, echo, and poor call quality so I'm sure they'll be fine in a pure IP telephony world.

If ATT is for it (1)

blackfeltfedora (2855471) | about 10 months ago | (#45561187)

I am immediately suspicious. The fact that the chairman "lauded" this proposal makes me think it is a terrible idea before I read any further.

AT&T has a valid point. (5, Insightful)

faedle (114018) | about 10 months ago | (#45561189)

We have this impression of the reliability and stability of the POTS network partially because it is ubiquitous and invisible. Yet, as someone who has spent most of my adult life working in and around copper twisted pair, I can tell you POTS isn't as "reliable" as you think.

You have the impression that POTS is reliable because there's a small army of men and women maintaining it. AT&T is claiming that it is costing them a fortune to maintain the copper twisted pair infrastructure to the standards dictated by the FCC for a rapidly dwindling number of customers. People are leaving copper-pair services by the thousands every day: some are going wireless, some are going to pure-play VoIP providers, and even the "cable company" (or the telephone company's own fiber).

Copper wire only lasts 20-30 years hanging from the side of a pole, on average, before it will likely need to be replaced. Especially in urban areas, where cable replacement isn't cheap, most of the landline phone companies are staring down the barrel of 50-60 year old copper infrastructure that may have as many as 75% of the pairs condemned.

Let me put it this way. No IT department for a business in a 100-year-old building facing a phone rewire job would replace all that 50-year-old 25-pair with.. more Category 2. The minimum they'd pull is Cat5e or "6", and even more likely they'd pull a significant amount of fiber, if not to the desk at least to a departmental wiring closet. That's the same decision the phone companies want to make.

From a strictly technical/engineering perspective, it's 100% the right choice. Copper loop is functionally obsolete in almost every way.

POTS is legal in colorado (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45561191)

But can't cross state lines.

You're thinking about the wrong issue. (1)

SSpade (549608) | about 10 months ago | (#45561199)

If you think your current POTS line is circuit-switched, or will work if your local exchange is disconnected from the network, think again.

A bigger concern is that while POTS isn't as robust as, say, cellular or VoIP against some sorts of damage it *will* work during a prolonged power outage (as long as the generator at the local exchange stays fuelled). VoIP won't, at all, unless there's power at the subscribers home. Cellular even if you can keep your cellphone battery topped off somehow, I wouldn't bet on power to the cell towers being as robust as to a local POTS exchange.

Ownersip of the copper POTS infrastructure (1)

The Cisco Kid (31490) | about 10 months ago | (#45561231)

along with the wirecenters/etc should be transferred to local cities and townships, to use for emergency communications. (Eg 911).

Every line should automatically have a number, every line should able to dial 911. Cost of maintenance should be covered by a SMALL tax, similar in amount to the "e911" charge already in use, per home.

In fact, this is what should have been done with payphones, too. But its too late for that I guess.

On premises equipment... (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | about 10 months ago | (#45561255)

A POTS home requires a phone that needs no on-premises equipment requiring a source of power. Also, POTS is required by law to provide 911 service even if the homeowner isn't paying for any phone service.

Even though I have VOIP (comcast), I have a corded (no batteries needed) POTS phone in case there is an emergency, I can disconnect my VOIP line from the house, and plug in the 20yr old $10 'walmart special' into the wall and call 911.

Sure, a cell is a backup for VOIP, but they both require power to work.

btw, I've never seen a commercial for POTS where they say "Can you hear me now? Good." POTS just works.

Rotary Phones (1)

sk999 (846068) | about 10 months ago | (#45561257)

My POTS is much more reliable than the electric power - can't remember the last time, if ever, that it was down. It even continued working when a large tree fell on the line. However, if the power is out, the only phone that works with it is my rotary phone. That thing is even more indestructible than POTS and will survive any natural disaster.

However, I'm still waiting for the Picturephone, http://www.corp.att.com/attlabs/reputation/timeline/70picture.html [att.com]

There's other factors to consider (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | about 10 months ago | (#45561261)

Some years ago I was listening to a radio program where they mentioned some company in Australia(?) planning to dismantle the urban POTS and replace it with something newer. But the reasoning wasn't just for upgrading: It was because they couldn't get the parts anymore.

Some of the manufacturers had stopped making the relays and whatnot that the POTS used, so the options were to convert to a new set of POTS hardware (an expensive Red Queen's race), get a huge order of compatible components custom-made (ditto), or upgrade-and-cannibalize the urban network to get them enough parts to maintain the rural POTS for another couple of decades and hope the entire system could be upgraded before they emptied their supply.

As someone who uses POTS/VOIP and Cell (3, Informative)

Bomarc (306716) | about 10 months ago | (#45561269)

Don't remove POTS. Some key reasons:
In case of incident (Natural / man made). Here in Seattle (area), several years ago we had a large wind storm that took out most of the power in the entire region. Many areas didn't have power for over a week. Cell phone - towers died after about three days. That's right: The TOWERS failed. Also, you couldn't get gasoline; no power at the pumps (Read local generators - at homes - started giving out).

In some areas of Seattle, people have their choice of which ISP they like (DSL, Cable, fiber optic, wireless) which is all fine and good for a VOIP carrier. Ask any of the phone companies what will happen when the power goes out? You can't call... 911, the power company, anyone for any emergency service, much less a call such as "I'm alive and okay", or "need food, shelter" (in case of some emergency).

I have family in north eastern WA. Where they are at, there is not viable alternative to dial-up. No VOIP, and spotty cell phone availability.

Cell phones... great sound unless you are in a dead area (there are a lot more of these than the phone company's are willing to admit); or as noted the power is out for an extended time.

Just because it (POTS) isn't as profitable as cell - or as well regulated, doesn't men it should be dismantled.

When the power is out... (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 10 months ago | (#45561283)

The phones usually still work. Bell was right when he refused to use Edison's power systems.

Not a big problem (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | about 10 months ago | (#45561289)

I see no problem with allowing telcos to replace analog POTS with new fiber lines as long as they provide basic telephone service under the same prices as previously, and they at no charge provide a POTS to fiber node at the customer premises for all existing customers with landline service, and are still required to lease lines as under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Verizon i know already installs a fiber to POTS node at the customer premises on FIOS, as do cable companies, so the customer can keep on using their POTS phones and wiring. The concerns you have could be addressed if the telcos were simply required to operate a local exchange for the fiber digital network within say 20 miles of the subscriber, not really something that is too difficult. I cant imagine why they would want to do otherwise, as operating a local exchange saves network capacity.

I have POTS from my cable company through a digital coax to POTS adapter so I can keep my home phones, fax, etc, and be able to have family conversations due to being able to hook up many telephones to the same line. I actually think people should have landline if they can for E911 services.

To ask telcos to operate both a POTS system and a fiber system would be unreasonable and absurd.

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