FCC looks to phase out copper wire phone technology

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said on Tuesday that the agency would begin “a diverse set of experiments” next year that would begin to move the nation’s telephone system from its century-old network of circuits, switches and copper wires to one that transmits phone calls in a manner similar to that used for Internet data. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/business/media/fcc-chairman-calls-for-transforming-the-technology-used-by-phone-systems.html?ref=us
The Internet-based systems allow more information to be transmitted at one time, making possible the addition of video to phone calls, as employed by services like Skype and Vonage. While consumers can already use those services, most of the legacy telephone networks still use analog technology, employing an out-of-date system of physical switches that is expensive to keep operating.
Those old networks make possible what is known in the communications industry as Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS, and they use types of switches that in many cases are no longer manufactured, telephone company executives say. The outdated switches limit the ability of companies to expand the networks to carry more traffic and impede a company’s ability to refurbish equipment.
The F.C.C. chairman, Tom Wheeler, who took over the post Nov. 4, announced in a blog post on Tuesday that he expected the commission to approve a plan in January to consider rewriting the legal, policy and technical issues that govern telephone service.
“This is what I call the Fourth Network Revolution,” Mr. Wheeler wrote. “History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society — think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.”
The transition from the old system, known as time-division multiplexing, to Internet protocol communication, or I.P., is both symbolic and substantive. Millions of Americans already have I.P.-based telephone service, which transmits packets of data and carries larger amounts of that data than is possible with the old system.
In addition to Skype and Vonage, I.P.-based services include Verizon FiOS and AT&T’s U-Verse.
AT&T petitioned the F.C.C. last year to begin the transition to the new system from the old by setting up trials of upgraded service. But some consumer advocates and public interest groups have warned that because the F.C.C. has limited authority over the Internet, telephone systems that use I.P. might not be subject to many of the rules that produced universal telephone service.
Those requirements include a regulation that one phone company in every geographic area serve as the carrier of last resort, so that anybody in the United States who wants telephone service in their home is guaranteed to receive it.
Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said the company welcomed Mr. Wheeler’s action.
“Our current infrastructure has served us well for almost a century, but it no longer meets the needs of America’s consumers,” Mr. Cicconi said in a statement. “The transition to broadband and I.P. services that has already begun is driven by consumers who are moving to the Internet and choosing to connect in ways not imagined just a decade ago.”
He added: “Like any change, it requires planning. The geographic trials directed by Chairman Wheeler will provide the real-world answers needed to ensure a seamless transition.” Mr. Cicconi said the company was committed to working “closely and constructively” with the F.C.C. and other groups with an interest in the conversion.
Public Knowledge, a consumer-oriented group, said Mr. Wheeler and the F.C.C. “must ensure that the policies and principles that have guaranteed that the telephone network is universal, accessible and reliable continue to apply to the communications networks of the 21st Century.”
Significantly, the consumer group has championed the transition in recent months, agreeing that the technology needs updating. “It’s important that the F.C.C. show that this transition is not just about AT&T or any other carrier,” Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said. “It impacts the lives and well-being of every American.”
Mr. Wheeler said a task force would report at the commission’s December meeting on what needed to be done, and in January the commission would adopt an order to begin the process. That adoption requires a vote of a majority of the five commissioners, but Mr. Wheeler noted that the three commissioners with the longest tenure have supported moving ahead.

The “X” street markings indicating where US President John F Kennedy was assassinated have been removed from Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25011234
Workers are laying asphalt to level the street in preparation for events on Friday commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.
Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald as his motorcade passed through the plaza on 22 November 1963.
Memorial events are expected to draw large crowds this week.
Dallas city spokesman Frank Librio said city workers paved over the street – and the “X” marks – in an effort to remove any hazards.
“With thousands visiting the area this week, we think that is prudent,” he told the media.
City officials are unaware of who originally placed the “X” markings, located along the city’s Elm Street.

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