I am concerned about the abolishment of reliable, mechanical, communication when it comes to “plain old telephone service” — POTS — and the future of voice and data communication.
Hurricane Sandy has shoved forward the end of the copper telephone line. Big communication companies have decided it is in their best interest to push people onto cellular networks instead of rebuilding what was lost: Traditional “communication by wireline” that has been a staple of everyday communication in the USA for almost a hundred years.
The changing landscape has Verizon, AT&T and other phone companies itching to rid themselves of the cost of maintaining their vast copper-wire networks and instead offer wireless and fiber-optic lines like FiOS and U-verse, even though the new services often fail during a blackout.
“The vision I have is we are going into the copper plant areas and every place we have FiOS, we are going to kill the copper,” Lowell C. McAdam, Verizon’s chairman and chief executive, said last year. Robert W. Quinn Jr., AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory issues, said the death of the old network was inevitable. “We’re scavenging for replacement parts to be able to fix the stuff when it breaks,” he said at an industry conference in Maryland last week. “That’s why it’s going to happen.”
I was unwittingly one of the early adopters away from a copper POTS line and I helped contribute to the early death of the established technology when I became an early signee to the Comcast “Triple Play” — voice, data and television — all rolled into one modem/VOIP network bridge/box.
Sure, Comcast has its own copper wire, but I had no idea no power is sent down that line. A POTS line is, in many ways, self-sustaining and ultimately efficient. It carries voice and power all in one wiry bindle.
What I didn’t know, was that if the cable modem power went out, I lost my entire Triple Play! No phone. No internet. No TV. I was dead in the dark. Yes, the modem has a “battery” but it never worked — and my new, replacement cable modem didn’t even come with a battery and a Comcast tech did the on-site upgrade.
When I grew up, the one, old, reliable communication standard was the POTS line. Your telephone had power from the copper wire and you could make a phone call in the dark during an emergency.
A long time ago, when I worked at KFOR radio on Saturday afternoons, sister stations from all around the Midwest would “call in” to their special, dedicated, POTS line to re-broadcast Nebraska football games for their local listeners — all done via a traditional copper wire telephone line — and the sound was excellent.
Today, the big communication behemoths are pushing us all to cut the wire and go wireless. I’m delighted to do that as long as the cellular service is at least just as good — and it should actually be quantums better — than what POTS has offered us in the past but, unfortunately, we all know cellular data and voice in the USA is still pretty awful and slow and unreliable.
Making a sea change from a rock-solid and reliable form of emergency communication to one that is distant and ephemeral and ghostly by design dials up an impending reckoning that creates great concern. If the fragile cellular towers and networks are taken offline, how quickly can they be re-established?
When the World Trade Center fell, a big chunk of Verizon Wireless’ infrastructure and cellular towers were lost to the destruction and now, 12 year later, Verizon Wireless still haven’t made the necessary network changes and upgrades to fix the terrorist damage that was done half a generation ago. Verizon used to be the best wireless carrier in New York City by a long shot — now, AT&T ridiculously rules that cyber roost.
I realize we’re in the process of completely being cut away from wires in every dimension of our lives, but that doesn’t mean the current wireless networks are ready to carry us. 911 can be confused and unreliable on a cellular network. Life-Alert sorts of emergency calls for help do not work on cellular networks. You cannot set up a fax machine on a cellular network.
Since there are no replacements for those necessary human needs in a cellular-only world — and with the cutting-off process already in full-bore — what will happen next is a predictable, preventable, and unforgivable, tragedy in waiting.