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A Eulogy for POTS

Frontier Communications has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

After accumulating $17.5 billion in debt through a series of acquisitions, Frontier CEO, Bernie Han, states, “the company has significantly under-invested in its fiber networks, making it difficult to attract and keep customers. The company has outlined a plan to spend $1.4 billion on fiber upgrades through 2024 and bring fiber to 3 million new Frontier customers.” Note 1

So, where does that leave plain old telephone service (POTS)?  The internet and fiber optic network providers have been cannibalizing the public switched telephone network (PSTN) for years, yet many Connecticut public sector agencies (local government, first responders and K-12 schools) have been reluctant to switch to internet-based voice services.  Consumers have been switching from wireline service to internet based or cellular voice services in droves further exacerbating Frontiers financial challenges.

The copper telecommunications PSTN infrastructure and interfaces haven’t changed significantly in decades.  POTS lines and PRI circuits are physical connections that connect premise-based voice equipment to the PSTN.  As Frontier redirects investment to fiber upgrades and internet services, the copper-based voice infrastructure and interfaces will gradually disappear.

A mind-set that copper voice TELCO circuits and premise-based voice switches offer greater reliability is deep seated with older network administrators, with some justification.  Copper TELCO circuits receive power from the central office or UPS batteries on the pole and continue to function even when local power is interrupted, providing limited access to the PSTN.    

Why is Connecticut different from other Frontier served states?  Frontier Communications is headquartered in Norwalk, Ct.  The Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET), which Frontier acquired in 2014, traces its roots to the days of telephone inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, when the world’s first telephone exchange opened in New Haven.  Many SNET alumnus, including this writer, remain in the workforce, with gray hair or no hair, and retain a distant loyalty to a brand and time when SNET was considered an innovative telecommunications leader.  For many Connecticut municipalities SNET provided reliable telephone service, local employment and reliable tax revenues from company owned property and telephone poles.  Remember the SNET tagline and jingle “We go beyond the call.”     

Frontier shareholders will pay the price for the companies shortsighted vision and mountain of debt.

Frontier customers using POTS services need to plan for a time in the not so distant future when the POTS interfaces to the PSTN are no longer available.  Hosted VoIP – also known as a hosted PBX – simply means everything is hosted off-site in a data center or multiple data centers and connected via the internet or a private circuit. The VOIP service provider hosts the servers, software, maintenance, updates, and troubleshooting.  The service provider manages all of the backend work (whether it be calls, chats, video conferences, etc.) and routes calls via internet connections to the PSTN, to the user’s telephone or voice device.

The big advantage of a hosted VoIP system is apparent. The business or municipality doesn’t have to worry about POTS circuits or expensive equipment, installing and maintaining a local PBX or call server, or upgrading to the latest software with expensive license fees. These things are taken care of by the service provider, saving the user a lot of money, manpower, and headache.

When a hosted VoIP system is designed and implemented properly, it can provide reliability and crisis management capabilities that greatly exceed those offered by legacy copper voice TELCO circuits and premise-based voice switches.

Frontier Communications and SNET have served our state for almost 150 years, but the internet and fiber optics has disrupted the land of steady habits. It’s time to change!

Note 1:  Hartford Business Journal, April 15, 2020, By Natalie Missakian

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