FCC loosens regulations on retiring copper wire, rural customers beware

Phone carriers are transitioning from copper wire to fiber networks, but industry experts are worried about what this could mean for those living in rural areas

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Phone carriers are transitioning from copper wire to fiber networks, but industry experts are worried about what this could mean for those living in rural areas.

The FCC recently voted to make it easier for telecommunications companies to make the transition to fiber. The deregulation allows phone carriers to tear down copper wires without replacing them with another reliable service.

This could be a big problem for people in rural areas, who depend solely on landlines because they don’t have adequate cell service. Even more concerning, not only could these customers lose service, they could be losing access to 911.

“In the past, Verizon, because of the copper line regulations, was mandated to provide wire to these locations for a matter of public safety. Now by abandoning this, they are actually bypassing that regulation,” owner of The Telephone Guy Chuck Hartman said.

Hartman has been in the telecommunications industry for 35 years. He says Verizon does have an alternative for rural customers called Voice Link, but he says it’s not reliable.

“This Voice Link that they intend to put out-- there is not guarantee to reach the 911 in the municipality that you need to have 911 services at. It won't allow things such as medical alert devices, fax machines and security systems to operate with that particular service,” he said.

Verizon is currently in the process of making the transition to fiber in the Indian Lakes subdivisions and areas off of Great Neck Rd. Hartman doesn't think areas like Virginia Beach will suffer much because other carriers will pick up the slack. But he’s really worried about areas like Chuckatuck and Suffolk.

“A lot of Hampton Roads, but not all of Hampton Roads is wired up for Fios. But if you’re talking about Chuckatuck or out there toward Suffolk, I can't tell you how many of those locations are wired for Fios,” he said. 

13News Now reached out to Verizon and asked what solutions would be available for rural customers who don’t have access to the fiber network.

A spokesperson said Verizon can’t speculate on what type of solution would be offered in the future but provided the following statement on the transition from copper to fiber:

"In some areas in our territory, and where it makes the most sense for our customers, Verizon is retiring our copper facilities and migrating customers’ existing service to our more reliable, newer fiber-optic technology.  Customers whose service is migrated will continue to receive the same Verizon voice service at the same price, terms, and conditions over fiber as they did over copper.  Customers also have the option of obtaining Fios Internet at prices comparable to the High Speed Internet service they previously may have had over copper.

Migrating customers’ existing service is nothing new – fiber facilities have been widely deployed throughout the country for more than a decade.  Fiber optics offer excellent voice quality and higher bandwidth potential to meet today's digital demands and the possibilities of tomorrow, as well as increased reliability and improved resistance to weather.  We work with our customers to handle migration of their services efficiently, and at no cost to the customer. 

The transition is essentially seamless to customers.  Devices such as facsimile, security alarms connected to a central station, or medical monitoring equipment will continue to work in the same way as they did over copper facilities.  Verizon also provides customers with a free back-up battery unit for their voice service."

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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