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FCC TAC predicts PSTN extinct by . . .

Happy Independence Day everyone! I sincerely hope you’re listening to this or reading this while at a family barbecue or event, but if you’re one of the many readers I have from public safety, and you happen to be at work today, thanks for doing what you, and the holidays you quite often give up to provide a level of safety for the rest of us.

One of the various NENA groups that I participated in is the Private Sector and Government Affairs Advisory Group or (PSGAAG). (We have got to come up with a better name or acronym for that group! What a mouthfull!)

One of the things that the group keeps an eye on is the FCC’s Technology Advisory Council. The TAC released, on June 30, a report that apparently has generated a great deal of chatter in Washington, DC as well as the trade press. The slide deck recommends that the FCC accelerate the transition from legacy TDM-based PSTN technology to an all IP infrastructure, which is no big surprise and not in the least bit unexpected. What was so astounding was that the report actually targeted a date where the circuit-switched voice elements of the PSTN would no longer constitute the network of record in the United States. Wait a second! Let me read that again, and pay close attention to the verbiage; the report stated that the FCC should set a date after which the circuit-switched voice elements of the PSTN would no longer constitute the network of record in the United States.

If you didn’t get it the second time, I’ll put it in plain English. The Technical Advisory Council, Critical Legacy Transition Working Group, has a draft on the table that eliminates the PSTN network as we know it today.



This obviously is a huge impact on anyone connecting to the network, from residential services, to enterprise networks, and everything in between. The report draft suggested seven recommendations and are as follows:

  1. Target 2018 as the end of the PSTN.
  2. Develop a time line to ensure smooth transition which addresses stranded assets
  3. Assure that mobile and/or broadband replacements are available everywhere PSTN is currently provided. The need will be greatest in role areas.
  4. Update the National Broadband Plan to support the PSTN transition.
  5. Change the Universal Service Fund (USF) funding and spending to support universal coverage and other social goals.
  6. Further investigate emergency service impact to assure a suitable replacement capability.
  7. Investigate incentive program for mediation devices to bridge older devices without PSTN or towards purchasing new equipment (consumer focused)

Now you’re probably sitting back and thinking “Hold on a second!”, “What brought on this initiative?” What is happening is as the number of subscribers on the public network decreases, the cost of maintaining and operating the network do not decrease at the same rate. You end up with a large number being split up across less people, effectively increasing the individual cost to each user.

This is happening today, at incredible rates, and is known as “cord-cutting”. Two specific events accelerate this problem even more. The first is the common practice of wire-line to wireless displacement that is happening in our younger population. The second, is the IP-based network replacement or substitution for fixed and mobile communications.

Before we can figure out what to do, we need to put a little structure around the problem. So the Technical Advisory Committee asked to key questions.

1. What is the size of the PSTN transition for Service Providers?In other words, how big of a problem is this actually.

2. How can we further accelerate this transition?
This is what I call the “Band-Aid” model. Not because I’m in a do something to help the problem limp along, what can I do to rip it off in one swoop.

To answer these questions the report came up with the following findings that I found interesting:

  • by 2014, the US will have fewer than 42 million access lines
  • in the one-year period between 2Q09 and 2Q10, there was a wired line loss of 6.6 million or 7.3%
  • by 2014 US consumers will have 31.6 million wireless lines which will account for over 42% of all US access lines
  • fixed lines continued to decline; mobile is the preferred choice for voice communication
  • more than 25% of US consumers 18 or older have already given up their voice land-line for voice wireless only service


This is a significant problem. Not only is it a technology change that affects both businesses and residential users, it affects public safety. It took seven years for the NENA i3 standard to be recognized, and it’s going to take several more years to complete and implement. So what does the Technical Advisory Committee recommend?

The FCC should take steps to prepare for the inevitable transition from the PSTN, and expedite that transition with a target date of 2018. The recommend that incentives should be provided for network operators to provide broadband services that support voice to rural areas and underserved America. Funding should be provided to PSAP’s so they can accelerate their integration to next generation 911. Regulatory requirements need to be realigned with new and emerging technologies, and network providers need to work with the security and emergency alarms industry associations to push for IP adoption. Most importantly the national broadband plan needs to be brought in alignment with the PSTN sunset timetable to assure that adequate broadband and mobile capability is available everywhere that the PSTN is today.

So when is the existing PSTN network going away? According to this group, sometime before the next decade.
You can read the report yourself here: http://transition.fcc.gov/oet/tac/TACJune2011mtgfullpresentation.pdf

Tell me; what do you think?


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Until next week. . . dial carefully.



Mark J. Fletcher, ENP, is Avaya's Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions. With a telecommunications career spanning three decades, his role is to define the strategic roadmap and deliver thought leadership for Avaya's Next-Generation Emergency Services solutions. In the U.S., he represents Avaya on the NENA Institute Board, and is co-vice chairman of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union. In Washington D.C., Fletch contributes technical guidance to various committees at the Federal Communications Commission, dealing with Optimal PSAP Architecture and Disabilities Access. more

10 Responses to “FCC TAC predicts PSTN extinct by . . .”

  1. Interesting blog post. I think the recent popularity of smart phones will increase the wireless only service drastically in the next few years. 2018 is a good prediction.

    • Thanks Scott, the more I think about it; the more I agree as well. The adoption rates for technology today are much steeper than they were in the 80’s and 90’s.

      We have to remember that we are not building a new network here, it already exists; we are simply connecting intelligent devices to it.

  2. Mark,

    Yes, The FCC did make a bold prediction that the PSTN will be dead in 2018. Their argument is compelling and supported with empirical data. However, I don’t think the marketing investment being made by the LEC’s to extend the public’s perception that the PSTN is still viable was fully considered. I like to keep in mind that our customer’s perception of reality is our actual reality. The marketing budgets of the LECs can buy a lot of perception.

    • Thanks for bringing up that point. That may certainly be true with some percentage, but you have to admit, that the PSA campaigns and public desire into communicate in ways that the PSTN cannot offer due to technology restraints, will drive the direction of how we communicate and on what device.

      The new way forward is to be more flexible, and open to change. Heck, the existence of your company proves that point, and should have sent a wake-up call to the rest. Buckle up! It’s going to be a wild ride!

  3. @Mark: “The FCC did make a bold prediction that the PSTN will be dead in 2018.”

    With all due respect, the FCC said no such thing. It was the TAC (Technical Advisory Committee) that put out the year 2018 as a starting point for discussion. Advisory committees typically comprise interested members of industry, academia and gov’t. But their recommendations do not carry the weight of law until the FCC endorses them by rule or order. The FCC has not yet endorsed the TAC recommendations. And we’re still a long ways from the FCC doing that.

    So maybe it’s time to throttle back on the rhetoric justa bit.

  4. Fletch,

    There are a few more points to consider about this topic. AT&T already filed a petition to end life of the PSTN, using cost concerns as a reason. In actuality, there are other far reaching effects of making this move. The Telecom Act of 1996 expanded competition, driving prices down across the board dramatically. Incumbent LECs were required to lease out network elements to CLECs at wholesale price points. The ensuing battle among accountants and lobbyists revolved around debating which side was unfairly benefiting from the rates, with the ILECs insisting they were losing money at the mandated rates. The next decade was spent fighting that battle, led by the CLEC divisions of the original AT&T, the IXC and CLEC (not the SBC AT&T of today), and MCI. As those two were absorbed into what is now the new AT&T and Verizon, $100 Billion businesses whose lobbyists then shifted gears and systematically removed pricing supports of those network elements. With the remaining CLECs all well under $2 Billion revenue each, there has effectively been no balance in lobbying efforts since 2005.

    The next item to consider is the regulatory environment that required the ILECs to lease access on the last mile only apply to the copper plant – the PSTN. Mobile and Fiber networks are exempted. The net effect of that is to transition the CLECs into “Retail Customers”, not wholesale customers, and competitors. AT&T’s (SBC version) doesn’t really care when this transition happens as long as they can get a date on the calendar. They can then work to accelorate the plan, or even initiate the decommissioning process for copper. There process for this sounds logical enough, as they want to reuse existing conduit, removing copper and replacing it with fiber. Effectively that would preclude future regulatory action requiring continuing maintenance of the open access copper for competitors. As Ethernet technologies improve over copper, that’s an increasing competitive threat. While we can all agree fiber is better, from an AT&T or Verizon perspective, removing copper forces the migration to fiber where they have a 100 fold cash flow advantage on deployment, or a shift to wireless, where again, competition is essentially cut to primarily only AT&T and Verizon.

    When you take into consideration the other AT&T move to acquire T-Mobile, the next strongest competitor is off the market as a competitive alternative. Again, this is about eliminating even more competition.

    Overall, this is as much about rebuilding a monopoly through regulatory fiat as it is about more efficient and modern technology being implemented.

    • Jill, Thanks for the detailed explanations and exposing a whole other side fo this situation! I certainly will be doing a lot of research on this over the weekend. The telecom business never ceases to amaze me. Just whenyou think you have a handle on something, someone comes along and drops a bomb with new and very relevant information. Thanks for reading, and double thanks for providing such a detailed and informative response. I am sure all of my readers will appreciate it.


  5. Can I have the PSTN when everyone is finished with it? Along with the bunkers that house the central offices and the low maintenance copper lines that give us line powered high quality voice service.

  6. The folks fail to mention that the PSTN is hardly replaceable unless of course the telcos want a less reliable less costly network, The problem, legacy landlines still need to connect, and globalization, the internet currently does not have a system where you can type someone’s number and call regardless of carrier,consumers, you need to use skype, or a program that someone else has, not a huge problem, then you need to upgrade many phones, what will happen to toll-free, collect, calls, or 911 services, or rural areas, 20% of americans do not use the internet, or if they do not regularly at home,

    This is an attempt to lower costs with a substandard network, true the pstn has limitations, audio frequencies, etc but we are still a long way, especially considering dialing other countries , simplicity makes things possible, stuck overseas credit card, dial call collect or a toll free number, you really expect IP phones to be that universal?, its too early to tell.

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