The FCC is proposing to take the first specific steps toward the elimination of landline telephones. Comments from the public were due on or before April 18, 2011.
Below is a summary of what is being proposed. The complete FCC proposal can be found at www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0209/FCC-11-13A1.pdf.
Briefly, the FCC believes that the switched telephone network (i.e. telephone lines and switching centers) is obsolete and should be dismantled. Therefore FCC’s policy is to phase out telephone lines during the coming years and replace them with broadband service. In other words, the FCC wants ordinary telephones to be entirely replaced with cell phones and computers (voice over Internet). The first step is to take money that is now being used to subsidize rural telephone service and subsidize broadband (i.e. Internet) services instead.
The Universal Service Fund is a federal fund paid for by a surcharge on everyone’s long distance telephone bill. Until now, the fund has been used to subsidize telephone service in rural areas, as well as telephone service to people with low incomes, to make sure all Americans have access to a telephone.
This proposal by the FCC would eliminate some subsidies for ordinary telephone services within two years and reallocate Universal Service Fund money to pay for fixed and wireless broadband instead. This is the first step in eliminating the Universal Service Fund itself and creating a “Connect America Fund,” which could only be used to subsidize fixed and wireless broadband.
In addition, the FCC is proposing to reduce the allowable per-minute rate for long distance phone calls, which will make it less profitable for companies to operate landlines.
The most important thing the FCC needs to hear from you is that the switched telephone network must be maintained. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (“the Access Board”), is the federal agency that administers the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the Access Board, an estimated 3% of the population, or almost 10 million Americans, have electromagnetic sensitivities (www.access-board.gov/research/ieq/intro.cfm). They cannot use wireless technology and have difficulty using computers. They depend on the switched telephone network for voice communication. “Universal Service” is not universal if it excludes 10 million people. Eliminating landlines will leave millions of Americans without even basic telephone service.