FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed in a blog post last Friday that he has begun circulating a pair of draft items among his fellow commissioners that would revise the FCC’s rules to accommodate the transition from legacy copper to Internet-protocol (IP) networks while protecting “consumers, competition and public safety.” 

The draft items include (1) a Report and Order (R&O) that addresses the functionality of IP network calls during power outages and times of emergency and (2) a Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that concerns the protection of consumers and competitors as copper networks are replaced by IP network infrastructure.  Both items are scheduled for a vote on August 6.  As part of the draft R&O, the FCC would require operators of IP networks to offer subscribers the option of purchasing a battery or other technical solution that provides at least eight hours of backup power during a power outage.  Unlike copper networks, IP networks are prone to power loss during area-wide outages, and the draft rules would require IP network operators to offer a solution for 24 hours of standby power within three years.  Providers would also be required “to inform both current and new customers about service limitations during electric outages and the steps they can take . . . to keep their service operational during a multi-day power outage.” 

Under the second draft item, carriers would be required to provide residential subscribers with three months advance notice of plans to retire landline copper facilities.  Business and other non-residential subscribers must be given at least six months’ notice.  Pending completion of the FCC’s related proceeding on special access services, the FCC would enact an interim rule that requires carriers to provide competing wholesale customers with access to replacement IP networks at rates, terms and conditions that are “reasonably comparable” to legacy copper services.  While carriers would be permitted to retire copper networks without prior FCC consent as long as the planned retirement causes no discontinuance, reduction or impairment in service, carriers would be required to provide interconnecting wholesale customers with notice on requirements pertaining to all parts of the copper network that are being replaced and that wholesalers need to offer service to their customers.  In the accompanying FNPRM, the FCC will seek comment on criteria the FCC will use in reviewing requests to discontinue copper service and on a range of related issues that include support for emergency 911 services, network reliability, voice and data service quality, network coverage, and interoperability. 

Industry officials welcomed the news.  As Sprint applauded the FCC’s “hard work to move the IP transition forward,” Comptel CEO Chip Pickering declared:  “by including reasonably comparable wholesale access provisions in the tech transitions, the FCC will take an important step to ensure competition continues across all technology networks and platforms.”  Observing that “over 75% of the nation’s households have already moved away from traditional landline service,” a spokesman for the United States Telecom Association agreed the draft rules “should be a helpful step in ensuring that consumers and businesses understand and move through the transitions.”