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Caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and general spam phone calls are one of the hassles of 21st century life. This week on Community Broadband Bits, Christopher and Richard Shockey of Shockey Consulting talk about how the problem has progressed and what leaders in telecommunications are doing about it.
As we transition from our old telephone system to one that involves session initiation protocol, commonly known as SIP, we create a new frontier for those who are finding ways to misuse the technology. Richard, with decades of experience in Data Communications, Voice over IP Technology, Numbering and Signaling, sits as Chairman of the SIP Forum. The SIP Forum brings together people in the industry to advise, advance, and consult on matters related to IP communications and services that are based on SIP. One of their challenges involves finding ways to improve the problems associated with caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and spam calls that are associated with SIP.
In this conversation, Richard gives us a history lesson. He shares his technical expertise to help explain how market conditions, lack of investment, and the transition to the new technology have created a perfect environment for increased caller ID spoofing, robocalls, and the like. Richard describes the work of the SIP Forum and some of the challenges they’ve faced, which aren’t all technical. They have concrete plans to improve the situation, but rollout isn’t easy or quick. Policy, transparency, and rules are all issues that experts must address as they determine how we move forward.
Learn more about the work of the SIP Forum at their website and sign up for one of their mailing lists to learn more about specific tech issues.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
The California State Assembly will soon vote on three bills that have significant implications for rural Internet access initiatives in the Golden State. An online Change.org petition is asking you to urge lawmakers to give local communities the authority to determine their own Internet access needs.
On April 20th, 2016, the State Assembly will vote on a bill to provide state funding for community-based efforts aimed at improving broadband access in rural areas. And during the current session this week, California Represenatives will vote on two additional bills, drafted by lobbying groups working for the telecom industry, which seek to give incumbent providers even greater power to control the quality and price of Internet access options that are available in these rural communities.
From the petition:
Bill AB1758 was drafted by rural broadband activists and sponsored by assemblymen Mark Stone, Eduardo Garcia, Marc Levine, and Mike McGuire. It extends state funding and grant programs to local agencies and consortiums to plan and build community based internet solutions in communities throughout the state that have been ignored by big telcom. The bill requires a super majority to move from committee to vote. Committee members need to hear from people around the state to move this bill forward. If it dies in committee, funding will cease, and rural communities around the state will be at the mercy of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, etc. AB1758 comes to discussion on April 20th, 2016.
The petition describes two other bills up for consideration, AB2130 and AB2395, which will greatly influence the use of California Advanced Services Funds, allowing large corporate cable and telecom incumbents access to those funds. Local communities will have very little opportunities to obtain those same grants under the proposed changes.
This is not our first look at problems with communications service in rural Mendocino County, California, but we continue to see concerning stories coming from it. The tenuous situation along the North Coast, where large private providers have refused to invest in redundant networks, is heightening concern among first responders, community leaders, and citizens.
The problem stems from the tendency of incumbents to neglect existing copper systems that need to be replaced with fiber based VoIP. Randy MacDonald, assistant fire chief of the Camptche Volunteer For Department of rural Mendocino County recently presented the department's concerns to congressional and regulatory staff in D.C. The Press Democrat quoted him in a recent article that examines the issue in their region:
“We’ve built a second-to-none 911 system,” MacDonald said. But “we’re almost by default allowing it to become degraded as technology changes.”
For decades, people have been paying bills with an expectation that they were helping to maintain the network. Uncle Sam has spent billions subsidizing carriers to ensure the network worked. But now it seems that some carriers are preparing to harvest as much as they can without delivering reliable communications to those paying the bills:
Verizon’s biggest union, the Communication Workers of America, has accused the company of refusing to fix broken copper lines and pushing customers to move to fiber or wireless systems. Verizon has flatly denied the charges.
Some, like MacDonald, believe other telecommunications corporations are attempting to abandon their copper systems through neglect.
“There is a lot of concern the telecom giants are basically allowing the copper infrastructure to just deteriorate,” Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen said.
The FCC knows that there is growing concern over the attitude of the incumbents. In order to address some of these problems in Mendocino and similar rural areas as we trade in copper for glass, in August the FCC adopted a number of rules for carriers:
In 2014, Broward County completed its transition from an expensive leased data, video, and voice communications system to its own fiber network. The southern Florida county is now saving $780,000 per year with plenty of room to grow. With the transition to an IP-based telephony system, the County also saves and additional $28,000 per year.
Pat Simes, Assistant CIO of the county, recently contributed a profile on the project to Network World.
In 2009 when the network was too slow to be effective, county staff knew they had to act. Costs were increasing 15% each year as the number of lines grew and the demand for bandwidth increased. The County also had to provide funding to reach locations that the carrier's network did not serve. The situation made it difficult to budget; there was always a need to fund unexpected expansions and increasing service.
Several groups in Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) began working together to develop a way to improve systems for both groups:
Working together the teams developed a 3-year strategic initiative to upgrade Broward County to a 10 GigE core network infrastructure. Part of the plan called for reducing complexity and duplication of infrastructure, so the County also decided to converge the voice and data networks and, with voice and data traversing the same circuits, network redundancy would have to be increased because a single line outage could cause a location outage for both critical services.
Discussion over the "IP transition" has taken a back seat in the media lately as news outlets focus on the question of local authority over the right to invest in fiber network infrastructure. The IP transition is the gradual change from older analog mostly copper networks to packet-switched IP approaches that may use any medium (copper, fiber, wireless, etc). Some big carriers, like AT&T, are pushing to change the traditional rules applied to telephony and telecommunications as part of this technological change.
In October, Kojo Nnamdi interviewed Jodie Griffin from Public Knowledge, Technology Reporter Brian Fung, and Rick Boucher, a lobbyist from the Sidney Austin law firm. The show, The Future of Phone Service, is archived and available for you to hear.
As technology creates options for how we speak with each other, rules, regulations, and policies must also stay current. In this interview, Nnamdi and his guests touch on some of the basic concerns we face moving forward. From the WAMU show description:
American phone companies began laying the nation’s vast copper wire telecom network in the 1800s. But today less than one-third of the country uses the old copper lines, and a mere 5 percent rely on them exclusively. The advent of fiber optic cable and wireless phone service makes the copper network obsolete. We explore the fate of landline phone service and concerns about pricing, safety and access as the nation transitions to an all-digital phone future.
If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons in the IP transition debate, we encourage you to visit Public Knowledge's IP Transition issue page. They provide legal, anecdotal, and statistical data. PK also provides an advocacy toolkit to help you understand the transition and give you the info you need to defend your rights.
Public Knowledge, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and a long list of other public interest groups, recently filed a letter with the FCC urging the agency to launch an investigation. Specifically, the alliance asks the FCC to look into reports that Verizon is forcing customers to move from copper lines to fiber IP-based service. From the letter:
The Commission must begin investigating this issue quickly, lest inaction send carriers the message that abandoning customers in violation of their legal obligations is acceptable. Delay will only lead to carriers hanging up on more customers at a time when basic communications service is more important than ever.
In California, New York, New Jersey, and DC, large corporate carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and Frontier are not maintaining traditional copper lines. Public Knowledge and TURN note in their letter that in Maryland, the state's Office of the People's Counsel found that "Verizon routinely migrates customers from the copper network to unregulated services with inadequate procedures for customer notice and consent."
We noted last summer that Verizon faced criticism for transitioning residents in the Catskills and in New York City to VoiceLink without disclosing the full limitations of the service. This was the tip of the iceberg. Verizon has failed to repair copper lines when requested. People in some areas of New York City have been told they must upgrade to FiOS in order to get phone service. There are even some customers who have been told they cannot order stand alone telephone service.
Because IP-based services are not yet regulated, carriers will not be obliged to provide services to everyone or to maintain communications infrastructure as they must with copper lines.
The full text of the letter [PDF] and exhibits [PDF] provide details on Verizon's purposeful neglect of existing copper lines, customer service tactics to push customers on to IP services, and more about the company's nation-wide strategy. From the letter:
In February, we reported on another attempt by AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell, to eliminate plain old telephone service (POTS) in Kentucky. According to Mimi Pickering from the Rural Broadband Policy Group, AT&T's SB 99 is quickly moving ahead and may even be up for a full House vote at any time.
Kentucky has fought to save its landlines for three years in a row. Many of us only think of landlines as a way to speak with loved ones, but for the isolated, elderly, and those that face daily health hazards, a landline is also a lifeline.
We recently learned that home security firm ADT submitted a letter opposing the passage of SB 99 because many business and residential customers rely ADT's technology designed for traditional landlines. Even thought the letter is dated March 4th, it only recently came to light. The letter states:
Many of our customers, like the one who alerted ADT to this bill, rely on POTS to carry alarm signals to and from monitoring companies like ADT. Some also use POTS for their Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and medical alert services. ADT accepts that the transition from POTS is a natural progression towards new technology, and is actively working to develop best processes and an acceptable timeline where POTS is discontinued; however, the safety of everyday Kentuckians could be jeopardized if this is not done in a pragmatic, thoughtful way.
Kentuckians can weigh in on this bill by calling the toll free message line at 800-372-7181 and tell House leadership and their legislator to oppose SB 99.
Yet again, lobbyists from AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell are lobbying state elected officials under the false guise of improving communications in Kentucky. In a Richmond Register opinion piece, Mimi Pickering from the Rural Broadband Policy Group revealed the practical consequences of Senate Bill 99.
Republican Senator Paul Hornback is once again the lead sponsor on the bill. As usual, backers contend the legislation moves Kentucky communications forward. Last year, Pickering and her coalition worked to educate Kentuckians on SB 88, that would have eliminated the "carrier of last resort" requirement. We spoke with Pickering about the bill in Episode #44 of the Broadband Bits podcast. They had a similar fight in 2012.
In her opinon piece, Pickering describes the practical effect of this policy change:
It would allow them to abandon their least profitable customers and service areas as well as public protection obligations. But it is a risky and potentially dangerous bet for Kentuckians. Kentucky House members should turn it down.
Everyone agrees that access to affordable high-speed Internet is a good thing for Kentucky. However, despite what AT&T officials and their numerous lobbyists say, SB 99 does nothing to require or guarantee increased broadband investment, especially in areas of most need.
AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris claims that current Kentucky law prevents the company from investing in new technology. As Pickering points out, AT&T refused to build in unserved areas when offered federal funds. Those funds came with minimum obligations; AT&T was not interested.
Public Knowledge and the Center for Media Justice have an eye on the transition from traditional copper landline telephone service to Internet-protocol services. As we move forward, both organizations continue to educate citizens on telecommunications policy and how it can affect us.
On December 12, at 2:00 p.m. EST, both groups will collaborate for a webinar on the transition. What's the Hang Up: A Webinar to Understand the Phone Network Transition and Defend Your Communication Rights, will offer info on the transition and will introduce participants to the "What's the Hang Up" toolkit, designed to help consumers get involved as we move forward. Presenters will be Stephani Chen, Amina Fazlullah, and Sean Meloy.
From the webinar announcement:
The largest telephone companies in the U.S. have announced they want to upgrade the technology that delivers phone service to an all internet-protocol (IP) based telephone network. The telephone has made universal communications possible keeping families connected, becoming a lifeline in times of crisis, and an economic engine for small businesses.
In order for our communities to continue to experience the benefits of the telephone, we must get involved. Over the coming months the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies will be considering how to roll out this transition.
The war over keeping copper alive rages on in New York with more stealthy antics from Verizon. Stop the Cap! now reports that, rather than wait for a hurricane to take out the copper lines in the Catskills, it will quietly shift seasonal home owners to VoiceLink as they request reconnection. Stop the Cap! also published a letter [PDF] from the Communication Workers of America (CWA) who allege Verizon has also been installing VoiceLink in the City.
We recently visited this drama with Harold Feld from Public Knowledge on Broadband Bits podcast #52. He and Christopher discussed the issue as it applies to Fire Island in New York and Barrier Island in New Jersey. Verizon has permission from the New York Public Services Commission (NYPSC) to use the VoiceLink product in place of copper wires on a temporary basis as a way to get service to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Seven months is a long time to go without phone service.
Our readers know that VoiceLink short changes users, especially those that rely on phone connections for Life Alert, want to use phone cards, or want the security of reliable 911 service. Feld also noted in his Tales from the Sausage Factory blog, that Verizon was rumored to be making secret plans to expand VoiceLink well beyond the islands, regardless of the limitations of the NYPSC order.