Search This Blog

Friday, January 16, 2015

Telephone profiteering vs. public safety of 911 call reliability

front page story headlined 'Busy signals frustrate landline callers' Gazette-Times, May 8, 2009, p. A1

PHOTO: See previous post Comcast vs. Qwest phone problems (5/9/09) about the front page story by Rachel Beck, "Busy signals frustrate landline callers," Gazette-Times, May 8, 2009, p. A1. Also see editorial page "Roses 'n' Raspberries," Gazette-Times, May 8, 2009, p. A9

This front page story documented problems calling from a Qwest telephone to a Comcast telephone was predicted by engineers a quarter century ago when "Ma Bell" was broken up. A more serious concern is Comcast's self-disclosed issues with reliably accessing 911.

In fact, not long after I wrote the above post, I experienced problems with my CenturyLink phone service (formerly named the U.S. West or Qwest phone companies) and then more recently I read the editorial "Is last call near for landlines?" posted Jan. 13, 2015, which prompted me to write the following letter to the editor:

Perhaps I'm biased because I have a life-threatening medical condition, but the reliability of calling 911 is more important to me than the cost issue raised by the Jan. 13 editorial "Is last call near for landlines?"

Old-fashioned plain old telephone systems were engineered to survive a 1950's nuclear war or a natural disaster by hardwiring landlines to a downtown switch with a well-maintained emergency power backup system, which means I can call 911 even when my electric power is out for days.

Compared to landlines, 911 telephone calls are less reliable if made via an internet line, such as via a cable TV or Voice-Over-IP telephone phone service, and are even less reliable via a cellphone because it depends on multiple batteries that are often poorly maintained and short-lived during a power outage.

I recently became more concerned when I couldn't call 911 because the device that combines DSL internet lines with landlines was disconnected by an incompetent outsourced contractor hired to save money by the company of the very experienced landline technician who had to fix it.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "Landlines clear winners over cell phones for reliability," Gazette-Times, Jan. 16, 2015, p. A9)

The editorial also made the point that phone companies make more money off cellphones and landlines, still used by only a third of Oregonians, and "are a drag on the profits of the companies that provide landlines, in some cases because they are compelled to do so by state law. That's why some telephone companies are lobbying to eliminate clauses in state laws known as "obligation to serve" requirements. These rules essentially give everyone the right to landline service. In California, the companies were able to persuade legislators to drop the requirement. . . . And that could trigger real headaches for elderly and rural Oregonians who suddenly could find themselves without reliable telephone service. Not to mention higher bills . . ."

The politics of this divides between promoting universal accessibility and the telecoms, who are trying to maximize their profits by eliminating the few remaining regulations and by cherry-picking only the most-profitable customers by serving only the city instead of the rural areas. State legislatures that are controlled more by city constituencies instead of rural interests are more likely to side with the telecom's lobbyist money that promises city folks that they will get faster 5G cellphones and fiber gigabit internet service to their home by allowing telecoms to do what they want. Of course, this may end up costing more because the radio spectrum required is just now being auctioned off by the FCC (after the transition to over-the-air digital TV is done) and so far the indications are that it will cost these private bidders much more than expected and therefore they will be even more motivated to charge customers more money to maintain their profit margins. What is a shame is that this spectrum is public property owned by everyone and there should be a requirement for providing universal access, but the Republicans over the last thirty years have slowly chipped away at these laws by calling them socialism and bad for the economy.

See previous posts Local newspaper moves to old building with a leaky roof (6/16/14) where I talk about the related "topic of research and discussion in engineering journals addresses the decaying of America's aging infrastructure by proposing how existing public policies to ensure public safety should be updated in the 21st Century." and the newspaper story that prompted it "Here's how to reach the Gazette-Times this week while we move," posted Jun. 4, 2014.

Un an unrelated topic, also on the same letter to the editor pages were the letters by Linda Jewett, "Letters: Here's another idea for former Gazette-Times building," Gazette-Times, Jan. 16, 2015, p. A9 and Linda Jewett, "Letter: Here's another idea for former Gazette-Times building," posted January 15, 2015 that suggested, "Perhaps Oregon State University could purchase the property and build a home on it for use by the current and future OSU presidents. In doing that, the president would have a Corvallis address, be able to walk to work, and most importantly, enjoy the ambiance of living in a college neighborhood. I lived next to the OSU campus for 23 years and experienced all of the above opportunities." -- I love this idea and recall when I was graduate student, the University President regularly invited students to his home that was an easy bike up Witham Hill north of campus. I won't know where the OSU President lives now -- perhaps this is being kept secret for security reasons, hut I don't know the actual facts today.