FCC considers safeguards as landlines move to IP

FCC considers safeguards as landlines move to IP
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As landline phones move toward operation over the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission wants to make sure those lines are still able to get a signal during a power outage. 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday proposed new rules that would force phone providers to offer backup power for customers to buy as they transition away from copper lines. 

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"IP-based home voice services are more vulnerable to outages during emergencies than their copper predecessors," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post. 

The rules will be voted on during the FCC's August meeting. 

Traditional copper-based phone networks usually remain live during an outage because they carry their own power. But that backup is not present in fiber lines. 

Phone companies would have to offer customers the chance to purchase eight hours of backup power for an emergency. That number would increase to 24 hours of backup power in three years. 

An FCC official said the commission would not require the backup power to come free with home service, because that cost would ultimately be pushed to consumers. The official said that would create a perverse incentive for people to stop buying landline service. 

According to government statistics from 2013, 41 percent of households had only wireless phone service, without a landline. That number has likely only increased since then.  

The rules would force phone companies to warn customers about the limits of voice calling during power outages, but it would not require customers to actually purchase the backup power. 

The rules would force phone companies to notify customers and other interconnection carriers before they retire their copper networks. 

The FCC said carriers would still be able make the transition away from copper without agency approval, as long as no service is disrupted. 

FCC approval is only triggered when the copper network is retired without an adequate replacement. The FCC is seeking comment to clarify what is necessary to qualify as a comparable replacement, including support for 911 services, quality of service, reliability and coverage, among other things. 

Wheeler is also proposing that competitive carriers, which rely on incumbent providers' copper networks, receive replacement service at reasonable rates when traditional copper networks are retired.