BT looks to shutter its plain old telephone service

June 26, 2015 // 11:44 a.m.

Tags: #british-telecom #skype #telecommunications #voice-over-ip #voip

Companies: #bt #ofcom

BT is reportedly asking telecommunications regulator Ofcom to allow it to ditch its plain-old telephone system (POTS) network altogether, migrating its users to a voice-over-IP (VoIP) system via broadband lines instead.

Founded in 1980 as a spin-off of the General Post Office and sent entirely independent a year later, BT's start as the sole monopoly provider of fixed-line telephony in the UK has kept it afloat even as users shift to mobile communications. While there have been moves to allow greater competition, such as local loop unbundling (LLU) which requires BT to allow competitors use of its last-mile cabling, the company still runs the majority of the UK's POTS network - and is required to continue to provide traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) services by the UK's communications regulator Ofcom.

POTS isn't exactly the money-making operation it used to be, though. The majority of users don't make profit-generating calls on their land-lines, choosing instead to use mobile phones or voice-over-IP services like Microsoft's Skype. Many telephone lines aren't used at all, instead being present only to act as a carrier for broadband signals - and costing BT money that it can't easily recoup.

According to a report in the Telegraph this week, BT has had enough and is looking to retire its POTS network altogether. The company has reportedly applied to Ofcom to remove the regulation which requires it to offer a PSTN POTS voice service, with a view to migrating its users to VoIP via their broadband connections - a far cheaper way to route calls than PSTN. 'We believe obsolete regulation should be rolled back, rather than clinging on until the last user dies,' BT's group director of regulatory affairs Mark Shurmer told the paper. 'What we are looking for is a kind of 'sunset clause' that will help customers to plan.'

That 'sunset clause' would see BT's Openreach division, the infrastructure arm spun out of BT by regulation but still owned by its parent company, being allowed to cease its PSTN service and deregulated to allow integration with BT's central network - something the current regulation, which insists that the two companies run completely independent infrastructure in order to prevent unfair advantages to its parent company, prevents. BT has suggested a ten-year plan for the migration, but Ofcom has yet to comment on the company's request.
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