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Some customers aren't sold on US transition to IP networks

Customers raise concerns about electrical outages and mobile phone radiation in comments to the FCC

Many U.S. residents who have written the FCC to voice concerns about the move from copper-based telephone networks to Internet Protocol are concerned about the potential effects on health from mobile-headset radiation and what happens when the electricity goes out.

The Federal Communications Commission agrees that mobile or broadband networks being unavailable during electrical outages is a hurdle to the transition to IP-based networks.

Customers of traditional telephone service have been writing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in recent weeks, raising objections to the planned retirement of telecom carriers' copper networks. The FCC, in January, voted to allow AT&T and other carriers to conduct trials looking for potential problems with switching customers from traditional telephone service to IP-based service.

More than 50 people have commented so far, with many appearing to be part of a coordinated effort to oppose the IP transition, although it's unclear what group is coordinating the comments. AARP, the senior citizens group, has filed comments in the FCC IP transition proceeding and has been involved in a debate over a bill to allow AT&T to end traditional telephone service in Michigan, the state where some of the people filing FCC comments live, but a spokeswoman at the group wasn't sure if AARP was encouraging its members to file comments.

Concerns about carriers forcing customers to move to mobile service may not be justified, because, so far, carriers haven't suggested that they will abandon wired service completely. Discussion at the FCC has focused on carriers offering wired voice over IP service as a replacement for traditional phone service in most areas, although that may be a challenge in some rural areas.

Some of the concern may be coming from Verizon Communication's' attempt to replace wired service with a fixed wireless service called Voice Link in Fire Island, New York, after Hurricane Sandy wiped out the company's wired infrastructure in October 2012. Verizon later reversed its decision after complaints that Voice Link did not work with fax machines, medical alert services, home-security monitoring systems and credit card machines.

A sampling of recent customer comments to the FCC on the IP transition:

-- "Phone companies do not have to transition away from copper line phones by using the excuse that too many people have already moved away from them. Hogwash! This is, based on the experience of people I know including myself, a problem of AT&T's own making because they have essentially neglected their copper wires so badly that the phone service has become so awful and they were giving such low quality repairs that people were and are forced to leave landline phones if they want decent service."

-- "My experience as a volunteer in disaster response services confirms what researchers and professionals within the field have identified. Wireless services almost never can be sustained in any major disaster. The cell towers and other communication hubs become overwhelmed and malfunction. In addition, where there is a loss and/or interruption of commercial power sources, wireless communication systems fail as a reliable technology. Whereas, the design of currently existing land line communication systems has a far superior survival rate, and can remain an efficient communication link with commercial power failure."

-- "I think it is imperative that we maintain our landline telephone service, along with the copper lines that have carried it, and that these be kept in good repair. We are in great danger of an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] or grid shutdown: from an attack, from a natural disaster, or from the increasing reliance on technology that is vulnerable and will go down if the grid goes down. Wireless (cell phone) service will go down with a takedown of the grid. So will fiber optics. Landline service, however, is powered separately from the grid, and it will work."

-- "I am absolutely opposed to this. I need to have a reliable land line for many reasons. First of all electricity goes out often here, and it would be very risky to be also without phone service. Also the technology used for wireless is not safe, and can damage my delicate highly sensitive brain, so I am avoiding it."

-- "I am totally opposed to the replacement of telephone landlines by all wireless technology. On many past occasions the landline has been the only means of communication with the outside world during an electrical black-out, road blockage, flood etc. No one can tell me that the wireless technology is infallible as I have often been unable to get cell phone service."

-- The AT&T trial proposed in this matter may be used, or misused, to remove traditional copper landlines from customers wishing to keep traditional copper landlines, this proposal disenfranchises telephone users by denying choice in the means by which essential services are provided. The FCC should not be aiding and abetting such activities. The root cause of AT&T et al's efforts to eliminate existing landline service is profit-driven. Public benefit should take precedence over corporate gain."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is