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[ NNSquad ] PSTN retirement and survivability

One thing the PSTN provided, by its very structure - those 5000 CO's and miles and miles of copper - was failure isolation.  Damage from even major natural disasters (or, if one is concerned about planning for this kind of thing, acts of war) can't knock out more than a tiny fraction of the network capacity, at least at the lower levels.  As you get to higher levels in what is inherently a hierarchical system, vulnerabilities naturally increase - as the Hillsdale fire of (how long ago was it?  30 years by now?) amply demonstrated.  Still, local service - the most important in organizing recovery - is extremely robust by its very nature.

The new IP designs gain much of their efficiency exactly by discarding so much of the physical redundancy.  I have an AT&T U-verse phone line - but I've retained a second POTS line, just in case.  When Connecticut suffered extensive damage from a hurricane last fall, the POTS line pretty much survived unscathed, but the U-verse line was out for days.  (Partly, of course, this is because the U-verse line requires local power - which was out for days beyond the couple of hours until battery backup for it drained.)

It's unreasonable to expect AT&T, or any private company - much less taxpayer dollars - to maintain the old PSTN or anything like it just to maintain survivability in the event of disasters - though *some* of the survivability didn't come just from the nature of the system, but from expensive design choices by the old Bell System (think the huge racks of battery backup in CO's - a feature cell towers lack).  But that doesn't mean we can just blindly ignore the issue either.

I know there have been some government moves in this direction, at all levels, since it's government agencies that coordinate much of the response to disasters. But there's a downside to that, too:  It puts government in the position of actually *running* basic infrastructure after a disaster.  For short periods of time, that may be necessary - but as history has shown, power is difficult to take back from someone who's become used to having it.
                                                        -- Jerry

   [ My gut feeling is that expectations of a general retirement of
     the PSTN in the near future are significantly unrealistic.  We
     have hardly even scratched the surface of the complex issues
     involved, that could make the transition from analog to digital
     TV look like child's play by comparison.

     -- Lauren Weinstein
        NNSquad Moderator ]


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