You may never have heard of plain-old-telephone-service, or POTS, but you have most likely used the technology it provides. POTS lines are the phone lines that supported the telephone infrastructure for decades. POTS lines are analog lines made up of copper. These were the original lines installed in people's homes so they could communicate with others. Now most people use cell phones, especially smartphones, to communicate with others. These are supported by a network of PRI lines which are digital rather than analog.
This post discusses some recent changes to POTS lines and what you need to know.
What you Need to Know About the Change in Plain-Old-Telephone-Service (POTS)
Since POTS lines are made of copper, they are very expensive to replace and maintain in today's environment. Additionally, POTS lines are analog, whereas the wireless infrastructure that supports smartphones as well as VoIP phones run on digital lines.
Digital lines typically provide a better quality though both can have issues. Digital lines, which run across network equipment, can run into latency issues due to too much traffic. This causes dropped packets and gives a choppy effect. Analog lines often run into issues during inclement weather and are noticed as static on the line.
As people switched away from standard home phones to smartphones, usage of traditional phone lines transitioned to digital lines. This in turn made supporting the traditional lines even more expensive as less customers were using them.
The reason users of traditional analog lines have not seen much in the way of price increases over the years is because, until recently, pricing was partially managed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A portion of this act stated that incumbent local exchange carriers, (ILECs), had to sell POTS products at a discounted rate to competitive local exchange carriers, (CLECs). This allowed CLECs to sell POTS products at a price that would compete with the market even though they did not have their own infrastructure.
So what recently changed?
A new order by the FCC, order 19-72A1, effective August 2022, reverses the ruling in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that forced POTS products being sold by ILECs to CLECs at a discounted rate. For more information about this, read this article.
What does this mean?
First it is important to state what it does not mean: it does not mean these services will no longer be available. The copper lines and infrastructure of POTS still exists and people still use them, both privately and in business. However, because the reduced pricing was previously locked in but is not any longer, it is quite possible you will see rate hikes at some point if you still use POTS lines.
It is more likely that businesses will be affected by price increases before individuals. This is because a single customer, when the customer is a business, will be subscribed to many more lines than an individual so this is a much more efficient way to make up the difference of the price increases.
Like individuals, many businesses have moved away from POTS lines, transitioning to digital lines and VoIP phones that run on their local network equipment. Connecting VoIP phones to a network is often more efficient and easier for businesses as they require an available Ethernet jack rather than a phone jack. From there, fully digital setups allow VoIP phones to connect to the local networking equipment and do not require additional equipment.
POTS lines are typically run into a centralized location in a building and terminate at what's called a 66 block that is owned by the telephone company. This 66 block connects to a 66 block owned by the company purchasing the service. From there the lines connect to a 25-pin cable that connects to a telephone switch that all phone lines connect to and are routed between.
PRI lines that digital VoIP phones connect to use local network switches, even if they are in several different locations. Keep in mind, VoIP phones can also connect to older POTS lines. In this case, the telephone line equipment would be local with copper lines connecting to it while the phones themselves connect to the internal network using an Ethernet jack, not a phone jack.
NOTE: An Ethernet connector is a wider version of a telephone connector, an RJ-45 versus an RJ-11 connector respectively, and has four pairs of wires versus the one pair in a telephone jack.
So how would you know which you have?
The easiest way to tell which system you have is to find out which of the following matches your situation:
- You have telephone equipment onsite with copper lines plugged directly into it = POTS/analog lines
- You have telephone equipment onsite but route your calls over the internet AND pay a SIP provider OR have no telephone equipment onsite (other than phone handsets) AND pay a VoIP provider = PRI/digital lines
If this still doesn't answer your question, check your phone bill which should provide enough information for you to determine which type you are paying for. If you still have analog POTS lines, now may be the time to consider switching to a digital solution.
With recent FCC changes removing pricing requirements for providers of traditional analog POTS lines, customers who still use those systems may see an increase in their upcoming bills. The best way to avoid additional charges that may be implemented is to transition to PRI/digital lines. Digital lines are usually very reasonably priced, do not require telephone equipment, and pull their configuration from the cloud so they are easy to deploy and maintain.
As always, newer technologies are always being developed which often means older technologies become more expensive and/or are faded out.