Guide to POTS / Analog Voice Decommissioning in 2022
In this blog about Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) we'll learn why the FCC is decommissioning analog service and why this is more complex than it seems.
We’re breaking out the rotary dial phones and going old-school in this blog about Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) – and why decommissioning traditional analog voice services is more complicated than it sounds.
What is POTS?
It’s how we used to communicate with each other (back in the good old days) but even now, there’s still situations where POTS isn’t just the preferred service – it’s critical.
At the heart of the matter is power. POTS lines are span fed, which means the provider supplies power via the telephone line itself – independent from the customer’s main on-site power supply.
The provider’s power supply is far more resilient than yours. Usually, a local telephone company operating span-fed lines will have independent generators and battery backup, so if there’s a city-wide power cut, your POTS line stays on.
There are a bunch of scenarios where a POTS line could literally save your life. Such as? Well, if you’re going to get stuck in a lift without a span-fed emergency telephone, you might not get out of there for a while. Concrete-lined elevator shafts are kryptonite for cell-phone signals, and if the lifts fail, a standard extension on the building’s internal phone system is probably going to be out of action as well.
POTS lines are also used for fire and security alarms, which is good to know if you’re planning a heist, and you’re counting on cutting the power to disable the security system – don’t believe everything you see on TV!
When the power has gone out during a fire (or any other emergency), POTS lines are a trusty safety net that have saved lives, time and again.
Why are POTS being phased out?
How long have you got? We’ll keep it brief – it boils down to a combination of the relentless march of technology, and the difficulties faced by legislators trying to keep up.
In 1996, the Telecommunications Act was introduced to keep telecoms markets competitive, and break up the monopolies of legacy phone companies (also known as Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers, or ILECs, for all you acronym lovers). These guys were holding all the copper, and before the 1996 Act, they were free to charge other telecom operators (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers, or CLECs) whatever they wanted to rent the lines.
Still with us? Good. Once the Act was passed, access to the legacy lines (technical term – UNE analog loops) was regulated, and a price cap imposed. Which made a lot of sense in 1996 and made a lot of CLECs very happy.
They got a lot happier a few years later though, with the arrival of cable, mobile, fixed wireless, VoIP, and a whole bunch of other reasons why they didn’t need to be renting copper from the ILECs anymore. Which left the ILECs pretty cheesed.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the FCC decides to cut the ILECs a break, and lift the price cap. The CLECs, who were still renting copper, took this as their cue to cut their losses, and leave all that antiquated, hard-to-come-by, and expensive copper to the ILECs.
Unfortunately, the FCC didn’t really think too hard about what would happen to POTS lines. So, from a customer’s point of view, your options for a POTS line just shrank to a handful of ILECs, most of whom are putting the prices up. Like, way up.
Given the antiquated and expensive nature of legacy POTS technology, the FCC released a mandate requiring carriers to sunset POTS lines nationwide by Fall 2022 (AKA right now). So, what you have now is carriers forcing customers off of POTS networks around the nation while also raising prices in the interim while they still can.
Darn it. I still need POTS lines. What should I do?
Don’t worry, you’ve got options. For starters, if you’re already signed up for an ILEC POTS service, you can tighten your belt. Transition any additional services you’ve got running on their UNE analog loops – you can move your additional voice lines over to VoIP, and fax lines can be transitioned to cloud-based fax servers. For required analog voice services (emergency lines, alarm lines, etc.), you’ll need an alternative however.
POTS replacement services, such asPOTS in a box, provide a copper-free alternative for emergency lines and analog voice-line requirements. They’re designed with comprehensive network failover functionality and built-in battery backup to provide a viable modern alternative to traditional POTS lines.
As you might expect, given the critical nature of their deployment, there are rigorous standards by which any POTS replacement service needs to be assessed to meet building codes.
The NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code is used to assess POTS replacement services in line with national regulations. In addition to their core focus on fire safety, the Code includes the NFPA’s requirements for mass notification systems used for extreme weather events, biological, and chemical threats – basically anything that makes people run round in circles screaming.
You’ll also need to check whether your POTS replacement service meets local municipality rules and regulations, but if your POTS in a box meets all the NFPA 72 criteria, it’s likely (95% or more) that your local town hall’s going to be fine with it, too.
If you’re looking for a non-critical alternative for your POTS – maybe an old fax line that you want to keep going – then you can also look at an out-of-the-box VoIP to analog converter.
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