FCC commissioners last week voted to streamline the process that incumbent carriers must follow to stop offering voice services on their legacy wireline telephony networks, but the action does not changes the rules associated with retirement of copper-based data services used frequently by utilities, according an official with the Utilities Technology Council (UTC).

During last Thursday’s FCC meeting, commissioners approved a three-step test to help facilitate incumbent carriers’ efforts to cease offering voice services over traditional telephony wires—something carriers would like to retire, because consumers increasingly are opting for wireless and broadband-voice solutions.

But these new rules do not address the retirement of copper-based data services, according to Brett Kilbourne, UTC’s vices president of government and industry affairs.

“The streamlined process that they’ve come up with is only applicable to voice—and it’s not exactly a cakewalk, either.” Kilbourne said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “The FCC is still going to put them through a fairly intense process—I think—even though it’s streamlined.

“But that’s going to be limited to voice, so the data side of this will continue to be subject to the same five-part test, as opposed to the three-part test. All of the data services that presumably a utility would consider mission-critical—if it’s being used for substation control, the frame-relay applications that the utility companies really didn’t want to see phased out—are still subject to a higher test.”

Kilbourne said that utilities that subscribe to telephony voice services could be impacted by the ruling. But most mission-critical voice communications for utilities are transported via private land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems.

Utility officials have expressed concerns about the prospect of carriers retiring their copper networks, which today are used to transport some mission-critical information about the performance of the power grid. Although carriers typically will offer broadband-based solutions—for instance, fiber-based connectivity—as an alternative, it frequently is much more costly than the legacy offering, Kilbourne has said.

Making the situation more difficult is the fact that carriers currently are under no obligation to retire their copper-based offerings in an coordinated manner, meaning a utility could have to purchase and install different types of equipment to work with a patchwork quilt of legacy copper and fiber-based wireline services within its territory, according to Kilbourne.

Last week’s FCC transition ruling did not address the issue associated with coordinated retirement of carriers’ copper plants, Kilbourne said.

“We’re going to have to push that ourselves,” he said. “The FCC’s not going to take that up. It’s definitely something that I think the FCC should be doing, because right now they’re just taking a fairly tacit approach to this whole thing.”