AT&T, Verizon say 90 days is enough for copper retirement notices

AT&T and Verizon, two of the nation’s largest telcos, are making their case again to the FCC to shorten the copper retirement notice from 180 to 90 days.

The longer 180-day period was developed under former Chairman Tom Wheeler in the regulator’s 2015 Technology Transitions Order. As part of that order, the FCC proposed giving competitive carriers and businesses a six-month notice, while residential customers get three months’ notice before copper facilities are shut down.

Under that order, AT&T, Verizon and other ILECs are required to provide notice to CLEC wholesale customers that use copper facilities to deliver voice and Ethernet over Copper (EoC) services to business customers. ILECs would also be given the option to retire copper networks and replace them with fiber without prior commission approval, but only if no service is discontinued, reduced, or impaired.

RELATED: CenturyLink, Verizon and Windstream battle over 90-day copper retirement period

The two telcos’ comments come as the new FCC looks to reform the copper retirement process. During its April monthly meeting the regulator said it wants to achieve a few main goals: easing the transition to IP networks, streamlining network notification rules, eliminating rules that require service providers to dedicate capital to maintain TDM equipment and speeding up the legacy service discontinuance process.

“The reversal of changes to the copper retirement rules that the Commission adopted in 2015 is broadly supported by the record and is a straightforward step for the Commission to take to reduce obstacles to replacement of legacy facilities with next-generation networks,” AT&T said in a FCC filing. “Where parties have opposed these changes, their objections are frequently based on confusion between transition of facilities from copper to fiber and discontinuance of service.”

AT&T added that the majority of “network modifications do not impair end-users’ services and therefore require only notice, not approval.”

Verizon agreed, adding in its own filing (PDF) that the 180-day period advocated by Windstream and other CLECs could further inhibit the transition of copper to fiber.

“Windstream argues that the current 180-day timeframe should be retained because providers face an ‘onerous process of transitioning retail customers,’ while “INCOMPAS suggests the period should be even longer,” Verizon said. “But as other providers explain, there is significant legwork required well before making a copper retirement filing, and this pre-filing planning period, plus the current 180-day notice period and the time it takes to issue a public notice, already stretches the effective timeline for a copper retirement filing to a year or more.”

CenturyLink previously cited how when it had to relocate a copper cable in a roadside conduit, due to road construction in Richfield, Minnesota, it could not replace the copper with fiber because of the 180-day timeline. The telco said it had only 140 days to move its facilities.

Windstream, which operates as a CLEC and an ILEC, said that the major challenge it and other competitive providers face is the transition of business customers to new services.

The service provider suggested in an earlier filing that “if the Commission returns to the 90-day notice period, it should reinstitute the objection process so that interconnecting carriers may obtain additional time if necessary to maintain uninterrupted service to retail customers.”

Simplified notification process

One of the other concerns AT&T and Verizon cite on copper retirement is the process of notifying retail customers that copper lines will be retired.

The two telcos said that the goal of any copper retirement reform should ensure clarity. In particular, the retail notice process can cause confusion for retail residential and business customers.

“Carriers already have the incentive to ensure their customers are properly informed and will experience a smooth transition when copper is being replaced by fiber facilities,” AT&T said. “Customers will be contacted to schedule appointments for any required changes in equipment at the customer’s premises. A rule requiring retail notices – and the contents of those notices – is redundant, and a rule that requires months of advanced notice is confusing to customers and thus harmful.”

Verizon said that the process of migrating a customer from copper to fiber, the telco will first notify them and then schedule the installation of new technologies like fiber to the premises (FTTP) at their location.  

“Rather than try to impose a rigid one-size-fits-all approach on these notifications, the Commission should permit flexibility,” Verizon said. “The record shows that the current rules, which attempt to micromanage providers’ communications with their customers, have resulted in customer confusion.”

Such confusion took place in Maryland where the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel said some of Verizon’s customers were confused because they received notices from the telco referring to the copper retirement date in its FCC filing and the separate date by which those customers would be required to migrate to fiber.

To alleviate customer concerns, Verizon suggested that the FCC could separate the notice process from the date of actual retirement or the “effective date” of the public notice process.

“The Commission can eliminate this confusion by removing requirements that notice be tied to the effective or actual retirement date and by no longer dictating the content of customer notices,” Verizon said. “Instead, providers should be permitted to provide customers notice reasonably calculated to allow the customers to make an informed decision regarding the network change.”

Verizon added that if the “Commission continues to require some form of copper retirement notice certification, parties should need to certify only that all customers have received appropriate notice of their migration date.”

Encouraging fiber investments

Ultimately, the goal AT&T, Verizon and other large ILECs want to achieve with a shorter copper retirement process is transitioning more network facilities from copper to fiber.

While AT&T and Verizon acknowledge the process of migrating services from copper to fiber is complex, the telcos claim comments made by CLECs and public utility commissions (PUCs) are not relevant because these transitions have been ongoing for several years.

“Some CLEC and public utility commenters contend that 180 days’ notice (or more) of copper retirement is needed because the process of migrating services from copper to fiber is complicated and time-consuming,” AT&T said. “These comments, which lack any specifics, should be given little weight because the copper-to-fiber transition is not a new phenomenon that requires planning from square one; impacted entities have had a decade or more to assess and account for how that transition will impact their operations.”

AT&T added that “adjusting to the realities of copper retirement should already be part of how these companies do business, as it has been for ILECs like AT&T for some time, and therefore the 60 days proposed by AT&T should be an adequate amount of time to plan for such retirements.”

Verizon echoed that tone, adding that if the FCC were to modify the 2015 rules it could make it easier for more service providers to effectively transition customers to fiber-based facilities.

“No party genuinely disputes the need to facilitate the continued migration to new technologies, and almost every filer acknowledges the benefits of encouraging providers to transition from copper to newer technologies such as fiber,” Verizon said. “While parties recognize that the some of the 2015 Technology Transitions Order’s reforms were helpful – including eliminating the ability of parties to object and delay copper retirements – there’s broad support in the record that further changes are needed and could encourage these transitions.”