Travel and Travails

 

As I sit in DFW airport and my flight keeps getting delayed by half hour increments, I am experiencing what many travelers do when faced with this rope-a-dope — initial mild annoyance that has turned into frustration and, then, finally, grudging acceptance that I have no control over the situation and might as well roll with the punches.

Luckily for me, it has been a while since I’ve experienced this kind of day while on travel, whether work or personal. So, that admittedly makes it a bit easier to be philosophical.

The silver lining is that I was able to make some calls and get some work done while awaiting my fate. I also had some time to ponder a question from one of our members last week at our UTC Region 3 meeting in Columbia, South Carolina. The question was related to the bankruptcy of Windstream Communications (a wireline company providing broadband, phone and TV to residential and other products and services to commercial and government customers, according to its website) and how that might impact the “IP transition” in areas served by that company. As most of you know, the IP Transition is a move away from analog services over copper-based networks and a migration towards digital network transmissions using Internet Protocol (IP)-based packets generally over fiber-based networks.

Because utilities often lease lines from the carriers or interface with the carriers’ networks on certain circuits, the IP transition is affecting utilities whether they like it or not.  What this means in practical terms (at least for one aspect of the transition) is that the carriers will mostly (if not entirely) abandon their legacy copper wirelines and the circuits that maintain them and either move out of the wireline business entirely in some areas or replace the copper lines with fiber lines. The rub is that the carriers aren’t required to provide utilities with much advance notice before they decide to transition to a new service or discontinue it entirely.

Of course, UTC raised this concern to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when the IP transition was first being debated a number of years ago, but the FCC ultimately decided to streamline the process for transitioning and discontinuing service, leaving utilities to fend for themselves and attempt to negotiate with the carriers for a smooth transition.  In addition, different carriers are transitioning at different times, which can mean that a single circuit served by multiple carriers may have different transmission modes.  The question at Region 3 about the Windstream bankruptcy introduces another layer of complexity for utilities.  Will it mean a speeding up, or slowing down, of their IP transition plans, whatever they may be? We do not know for sure.

While eminently frustrating, most utility telecom professionals have recognized, like I have about my flight, that what the communications carriers do with the IP transition is out of their control. However, as is also the case with the airlines, the more communication we get about what is really going on, the better we are able to plan. If we know a flight will be cancelled, we can potentially get another flight, rent a car, or at least get a hotel room. We can let those awaiting us know better what to expect.  For utilities, if they know what will happen with their leased lines/circuits, they can plan in order to ensure no service interruptions occur on their networks. Since comms is an essential component of delivering reliable electricity and the carriers need electricity to operate, it would seem to behoove them to work with us on this issue. In fact, this could be a great cross-sector collaboration even without any government requirements to collaborate.

The bottom line — let’s communicate.

Until we meet again…