Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a significant step to allow United States telecommunications companies to begin transitioning from the current copper line telephone system to an all Internet Protocol (IP) based platform by approving IP geographic trials by those carriers that wish to participate. According to the Commission, the IP trials will allow the FCC to develop regulations around the transition from Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) to an all-IP system in “sandbox mode”. Sandbox mode is the opportunity to run an experiment, receive all the data about how the program is running and fix the issues without impacting the entire system. In the case of the IP trails, telecommunication companies would have the opportunity to opt-in to run the trials on their network in select locations to gather data, understand the issues and begin resolving them for the good of the larger system.
What does this mean?
Federal regulations in the United States currently dictate that telecommunications companies must maintain the old POTS networks. As technology has evolved and changed, especially in light of the rapidly expanding adoption of cellular and smartphone technology, consumers have been shunning POTS and rapidly moving to IP-based systems. As a result, a dwindling number of individuals still actually use the POTS system as more and more are switching to IP services over broadband networks (Mobile, Facetime, Skype, etc.). In fact, since the year 2000, the number of households using traditional wireline phone service has decreased by 73%. Today, only five percent of consumers rely exclusively on traditional phone service. Because of this, a requirement that telecommunications carriers maintain and expand this aging POTS network proves more challenging with each passing year.
Think about your own situation. Do you currently have a landline at home? If yes, is it provided through a cable company? Do you only have a cell phone? If you are not connected to the copper lines running from your home, then you’ve already switched to the IP platform without even realizing it.
Why should LGBT communities care? Why should you as an individual care?
The advancement of technology including the underlying processes, equipment and systems we communicate over is a major development that has allowed LGBT communities across the country (and around the world) to connect, communicate, empower, organize and support one another like never before. The transition to an IP-based system holds the potential to increase the security, efficiency and efficacy of communications within the LGBT community and beyond. This increased access to technology can be important for the questioning youth living in rural America trying to gain access to information about what they might be feeling or the transgender individual trying to get in touch with a support network about the best way to transition in a work environment. The many unique issues of our LGBT community and the often difficult or non existent access to local resources means we, as a community, rely on dependable modern technology more than other groups might and are therefore, more directly and positively impacted by rules and regulations that increase our access to such technologies. The FCC’s ruling today opens the door to testing a technology that may eventually lead to greater richness in every LGBT person’s life.