Copper to glass

Via Instapundit, I read with interest an article in Ars Technica describing Verizon’s strategy to let its copper network degrade, in favor of fiber. My interest derives from essentially how weak the argument is.

Especially from Ars Technica, I expect solid technological reasons in their arguments, and that is probably the biggest gap here. The single technological advantage they can ascribe to copper is the fact that in a power outage, your copper-wire phone still works. Unless the phone wire is also down, in which case nothing works, though that does happen much less often.

I am not a big Verizon defender per se; I am generally impressed by their technology, and I generally feel the need for a shower after business dealings with them. But in this case, Verizon actually did put some thought into their copper-to-glass transition, and at their own expense they do install a battery backup system that can power your phone in a power outage. Does it last overly long? No. But their argument is that it is for 911 use only, and in a power down situation I don’t think that is an unreasonable standard.

Moreover, is it your phone company’s responsibility to provide power to your premises? Seems to me you have a power company for that. Historically, if the electrical grid had developed before the telephone network, there is a 0% chance the phone company would have offered power; power over telephone lines is a historical accident. I live in a neighborhood that regularly loses power, sometimes for days at a time. I run my business out of my house, so I have a generator. My Verizon glass works just fine under those conditions.

The article does have a point that maybe Verizon shouldn’t be “forcing” people off copper onto glass, especially when doing so is advantageous to Verizon from both a financial and regulatory perspective. I am certainly sympathetic to arguments that assert Verizon uses their “public utility” status when convenient, then cries “free market” at other times. That sort of cronyism happens all the time and it irritates me no end.

But…is it irrational for Verizon to end of life their copper network? Again, that the telephone network is cabled with copper vs. glass is not really my business. As long as Verizon offers me the same class of service (and frankly when I changed from copper to glass there was a noticeable improvement in call quality), it is none of my business. The objection seems to be that by changing, Verizon is exploiting a regulatory loophole so that they no longer are required to offer some of the classes of service that aren’t to their advantage.

That is fair enough, but the solution is to extend the regulations appropriately. And if we had a functional government that desired that type of regulation, this would be a non-issue. But Verizon distinctly has a point here. For very legitimate business reasons, Verizon no longer wishes to provided telephone service over copper wire. In my experience, Verizon is not forcing their customers to bear the capital cost of a change (though I’m sure Verizon will make the money back in the long run). Verizon is offering a comparable service in its place. Is it really legitimate to force Verizon to continue a business model they no longer wish to engage in? There is a public utility argument to be made there, but I don’t think there’s a technological one.

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