FCC approves phone customer protections amid 'tech transition'

FCC approves phone customer protections amid 'tech transition'
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The Federal Communications Commission approved rules Thursday aimed at protecting landline phone customers during power outages. 

As landlines move away from operation over copper lines and to service over the Internet, regulators want to ensure that customers can have reserve power during a blackout. 

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Traditional landline telephones many times work during an outage because copper lines carry their own power. But that is not the case for fiber optic lines. 

The FCC’s new rules would require service providers, including cable companies offering a bundled phone service, to offer customers the chance to buy a backup power reserve for their phone line. The rules would also force phone companies to warn customers about the limits of voice calling during power outages.

Companies would be required to offer at least eight hours of backup power, increasing to 24 hours after three years. Customers, however, could still decide not to buy the extra power. 

The commission approved a series of proposals Thursday related to the “tech transition."

Separate, but more controversial, rules would require phone service providers to give customers and interconnection carriers notice when copper wires are being retired and prevent providers from letting the networks retire from neglect. 

Currently, phone companies don’t have to seek FCC approval when replacing copper lines “as long as no service is discontinued, reduced or impaired.”

But there are no strict rules on how to measure replacement against legacy lines. The FCC is seeking comment to clarify what is necessary to qualify as a replacement, including support for 911 services, quality of service, reliability and coverage, among other things. 

The FCC also approved proposed rules to require that competitive carriers, which rely on incumbent providers' networks, receive replacement service at reasonable rates when copper networks are retired. 

Republican commissioners dissented from the second item, arguing the rules would slow the deployment of Internet-based service. Commissioner Michael O'Rielly related it to protecting fax machine technology by holding up progress on "substitutes [that] have been available for over a decade."