Telecoms are not required to take part in these tests, and surely some smaller companies will just let the bigger guys like Verizon and AT&T incur the costs of running these trials. Additionally, consumers in test markets will not be required to switch to VoIP service but will be given the option by their landline provider.
Even though there are several VoIP services available — from Skype and Vonage to phone service that comes bundled with TV and Internet service from cable companies — those existing services have never been considered as replacements for an area’s entire network of copper phone lines. The telecoms ultimately want their VoIP services to completely take the place of existing landline service.
Removing that old copper network from the equation is cause for concern for some consumers and advocacy groups who worry about interoperability of networks, compatibility of VoIP with business systems like credit card machines and alarm systems, and public safety. What happens when there’s a power outage?
Thus, the FCC says these regional tests will be used to “ensure that the nation’s communications networks continue to provide the services consumers want and need in this era of historic technological transformations.”
Among the Commission’s requirements for any VoIP network that replaces landline service:
• Public safety communications must be available no matter the technology
• All Americans must have access to affordable communications services
• Competition in the marketplace provides choice for consumers and businesses
• Consumer protection is paramount
Telecoms interested in these regional tests must submit proposals to the FCC by Feb. 20. There will then be a public comment and reply period lasting until March 31, with the FCC making its final decisions at its May meeting.