FCC commissioners yesterday approved rules that require communications carriers to educate customers about the transition from legacy copper networks to modern fiber networks and offer affordable backup-power options, which bureau officials say will safeguard residential 911 communications during power outages.

Although fiber networks are not subject to all of the legacy regulations of copper networks, carriers still need to make the same level of functionality is available as new services are offered to consumers, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

“Fiber brings great cost savings, great efficiencies and great opportunities for new services to carriers, but it does not bring the opportunity to walk away from the responsibilities that govern the relationship between those who build and those who use the facilities,” Wheeler said during the meeting, which was webcast.

“It’s a simple responsibility that we have that—as technology marches forward—consumers have the appropriate information about those changes, and the consumers have options to deal with the effect of those changes.”

Four commissioners voted to approve the 911-related measure, with Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly concurring.

A key difference between IP-based phone service and traditional copper telephony service is that the legacy systems transmits power directly to the telephone, so it continues to work during a commercial power outage. That is not the case with IP-based services, which are disabled when no power is available. This circumstance would prevent that communication link from being used to call 911 during a power outage, unless a backup power source is available.

To alleviate that problem, the report and order requires carriers to offer current and future customers utilizing cost-conscious backup power options, although customers are not required to purchase them. Under the order, carriers would have to offer an 8-hour backup option when the item becomes effective and a 24-hour backup option within three years.

“The goal is certainty to both carriers and consumers, so that service transitions may proceed in a timely manner that respects the enduring values of competition, consumer protection, universal access and public safety and national security,” David Simpson, chief of FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, said during the meeting.

How best to shift from copper networks using legacy technologies to fiber, coaxial cable and wireless networks using IP-based technologies has been an ongoing discussion for years. During yesterday’s meeting, the FCC approved several measures that are designed to clarify rules that will apply during this transition period, addressing a host of items regarding consumer protections and competitive issues associated with the retirement of legacy copper networks.