FCC’s Copper Retirement Plans Face Repeal From Non-Governmental Organizations

A four-part nongovernment organization (NGO) coalition has filed an appeal against the FCC’s decision in November to remove some of the obligations for operators to notify customers when they stop servicing copper lines.

Public Knowledge, the Greenlining Institute, the Utility Reform Network and the National Association of State Utility Advocates filed the petition for review with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked the court to reverse the FCC’s order and restore consumer protections.

In its filing (PDF) with the court, the petitioners asked the court to review paragraphs 37 to 39 of the Report and Order and paragraphs 128 to 155 of the Declaratory Ruling related to how service providers inform customers they are turning off their copper circuits.

“In the relevant paragraphs of the Report and Order, the Commission eliminated the de facto retirement rule, which required incumbent local exchange carriers to provide adequate notice to affected customers when they failed to maintain copper, subloops, or the feeder portion of such loops or subloops that is the functional equivalent of removal or disabling,” the NGOs said.

The group’s action should not be of any surprise.

When the FCC voted to approve reforms in November designed to accelerate the migration of copper to fiber networks, the proposal incited a mix of praise and derision from telcos, industry groups and its own ranks.

Under the proposed reforms set by the regulator, the intent is to streamline the copper retirement process.

As part of its copper retirement reform proposal, the FCC eliminated the copper and subloop portion of the de facto retirement rule. Specifically, the FCC eliminated the “functional test” which required the regulator to examine the “totality of the circumstances” when evaluating whether an incumbent LEC’s network change constitutes a “discontinuance, reduction, or impairment of service” under section 214 of the Communications Act.

Instead, the FCC says that a service provider’s tariff is sufficient for determining what “service” a carrier offers for purposes of determining whether section 214 discontinuance review is required.

“The petitioners seek review of these Commission decisions on the ground that they are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or contrary to law pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706,” the NGOs said, adding that “the court holds unlawful and vacate the challenged Commission decisions.”

At the same time, the FCC’s decision has drawn praise from the large U.S. telcos like AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier and Verizon, which have maintained longer copper and legacy retirement rules have hindered their migration to fiber and next-gen services.

These service providers have continually been migrating more of their customer bases off of copper and onto fiber in various parts of their wireline networks.

The new FCC’s move effectively overturns the 2015 Technology Transitions Order set by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. At that time, the Wheeler-led commission developed a longer 180-day period. 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.