"Buffalo Commons" as people leave? Lowell McAdam of Verizon is echoing AT&T’s plan to shut down millions of rural lines, many where wireless service isn’t available. “Areas that are more rural and more sparsely populated, we have got LTE built that will handle all of those services and so we are going to cut the copper off there.... It is not sustainable to keep having copper plant out there.” What Lowell didn’t say, but is almost certainly true, is that they will also shut down the phone lines where neither they nor anyone else offers local service.
Anyone who’s ever used a satellite phone knows it’s awful for primary communication. Satellite broadband speeds now are 5-10 megabits down, but satellite still has painful latency, is much more expensive, and doesn’t have the capacity for much video. As far as I know, this will be the first large area anywhere in the developed world without terrestrial service.
AT&T’s $100M/year lobbying machine has succeeded in eliminating “carrier of last resort” in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. McAdam's equally well-funded lobbyists supported the Florida and Texas moves and now are focused on New Jersey and New York. Verizon has been trying to sell 10,000’s of square miles of upper New York since at least 2004 without finding a buyer, as well as much of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Western Massachusetts. Meanwhile, they’ve treated these regions like the Romans treated the Sabine women, with some of the lowest DSL coverage in the developed world. No surprise they’ve lost customers, therefore.
Somewhere between 10% and 30% of the land area of the U.S. is not planned for LTE or other wireless coverage. The "satellite or leave" area is huge but secret. Unless the FCC requires V & T to reveal their future plans, there's no accurate way to know the size of the area likely abandoned. If 20% of the land area has no phone provider, that’s as much territory as 25 states combined. That’s as large as Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Maine, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
Verizon’s LTE is planned for 97-98% population coverage, a great thing. But we can’t ignore the remaining millions of people. Tom Evslin of the FCC Technical Advisory Committee has it right. “Make sure that everyone has the Internet and/or cellular service as an alternative to POTS before POTS becomes even more of an economic basket case than it already is. Everybody means everybody who today has access to the phone network. Everybody, not just 95%.”
AT&T has already persuaded the FCC TAC to consider "shutting down the PSTN." Using more efficient IP networks rather than the old circuit switches makes sense. Leaving a large part of the country uncovered does not. Reducing already weak competition is a mistake. At the FCC TAC, they haven't proposed solutions for those problems,
High prices, unacceptable service choices and further rural depopulation are bad policy.
Update 7/17: Tom Evslin writes "I think the article somewhat misunderstands the message of the TAC (for which I am NOT a spokesman). We didn't recommend that the FCC kill the PSTN; we recommended that it recognize that it is dying for the very important reason (covered in your article) that many people will be lefty without coverage. A sunset date for the PSTN is the date by which everyone who now has PSTN service must have some alternative; it's a deadline for action. I totally agree with you that satellite is NOT a viable alternative.