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AT&T, Competitors Squabble Over Proposed IP Trials

By Josh Long
April 16, 2014 - News

Josh LongAT&T Inc. hopes that the Federal Communications Commission will authorize it to conduct network trials in the Deep South as part of a long-term strategy to phase out its traditional phone infrastructure.

But the Dallas-based telecommunications giant is facing resistance from competitors that partially rely on its network to serve customers.

The groundbreaking proposal entails offering only wireless and IP services to new customers in Carbon Hill, Ala. and Kings Point, Fla., and eventually upgrading traditional phone customers to an alternative technology.

With droves of customers abandoning legacy phone service in favor of such alternatives as mobile and voice over IP, maintaining a traditional network is expensive, AT&T has told the FCC.With droves of customers abandoning legacy phone service in favor of such alternatives as mobile and voice over IP, maintaining a traditional network is expensive, AT&T has told the FCC. The communications world of the 21st century is evident in AT&T's bottom line, with its wireless segment comprising more than half of annual revenue ($128.8 billion).

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of consumers in AT&T's 22-state territory have nixed POTS, otherwise known as plain old telephone service, and the phone giant is still losing traditional access lines to rivals, such as wireless, cable and VoIP providers.

"These trials will help the Commission understand the technological and policy dimensions of the TDM-to-IP transition and, in the process, identify the regularly reforms needed to promote consumer interests and preserve private incentives to upgrade America's broadband infrastructure," AT&T wrote in a 2012 filing submitted to the FCC.

Early this year, the FCC authorized companies to submit proposals for experiments to deliver IP-connected services. The communications regulator is seeking to balance its preference for technological innovation with the need to protect consumers and ensure competition and universal service.

In a statement accompanying the FCC's order inviting companies to submit proposed trials, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel cited the "blistering pace" at which "communications networks are changing." For instance, she noted the number of switched access lines has plummeted from around 200 million at the turn of the millennium, to 96 million, while the number of VoIP lines has surged 80 percent since 2008, to 42 million.

The traditional telephone dates back to Alexander Graham Bell, who patented the device in 1876.

AT&T's proposal to conduct the trials, which is undergoing FCC review, could set a precedent for a remnant of Old Ma Bell to retire its generations-old, copper-based infrastructure. AT&T has said it is seeking relief from burdensome and outdated regulations that effectively bar the company from retiring its time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based network in many states.

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