It's Time to Finally Kill Off PSTN, FAX and TTY/TDD

By Doug Mohney November 20, 2012

Last year, the Technical Advisory Committee to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said the agency should put a "date certain" for turning off the public switched telephone network (PSTN). It's a move AT&T is strongly behind and excites telco policy wonks. Service providers want nothing more than to flush copper and get rid of their ticking-time-bomb TDM equipment once and for all. But if you're going to go through the trouble of end-of-life-ing the PSTN, you might as well acknowledge that there is a couple of more legacy services out there that need to go and build a policy to do so.

Policy wonks hold up the transition from analog to digital TV as an example of the challenges and success of a federally mandated switchover -- one I'd run away screaming from. The U.S. move to digital TV was marred by numerous political delays and sideshows with broadcasters wanting to squeeze every last concession out of the FCC. There were no disasters in the final cut-over, but the process was dragged out for years.

In an ideal world, there would be a standardized process for ending national communications services. We've gone through migrating TV from analog to digital and are having a discussion of moving from the PSTN to all-IP. At some point in time, the FCC will get around to looking at analog FM and AM radio bands for spectrum refarming.

My wish list on end-of-life goes to two services that already have viable alternatives: Fax and TTY/TDD services.   Basic fax technology has been kicking around since 1964 with updated ITU standards coming out as late as 1998, but fax transmission over IP -- let's think about this for a moment, using a digital voice over IP (VoIP) method to emulate an analog means for transmitting a digitized image -- has bedeviled end-users and service providers for over a decade.  

T.38 exists as a "standard" to do fax over IP (FoIP) using VoIP but if you've got the IP connection, why not just scan an image or take a picture and e-mail the .JPG? If Citibank and other financial institutions are confident enough in smartphone technology to allow its customers to take picture of a paper check for direct deposits without visiting an ATM -- making everyone happy by saving time and money rather than shuffling and shredding paper -- it is time for medical and financial industries to codify and endorse a standard digital imaging alternative. I don't care if it is PDF or some resolution of .JPG -- just pick one and move on!

TTY, text telephone or telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), has arguably already been passed by a with a generation of tech-savvy youth embracing (SMS) texting, instant messaging and Ye Olde Fashioned e-mail. I'm sure there are still people using TTY analog terminals, but all parties involved would benefit by simply adapting one (or more) off-the-shelf solutions and end-of-life-ing TTY. Along that line, I wonder how many aurally handicapped people would pay for an IP-based fixed line service that provides SMS text messaging as a standard feature-- in addition to already owning a cell phone.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

Contributing Editor

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