The End of the “PSTN” As We Know It

… and I feel fine?  Doesn’t scan.

I’ve said to my friends that the end of the phone net­work can be pre­dict­ed by the things that replace it.  In par­tic­u­lar, it’s pos­si­ble to dial “dave@daveg.ca” from a suf­fi­cient­ly savvy device.  How long will we have use for phone “num­bers” when the alter­na­tive is famil­liar and easy to use with a “smart enough” phone?

But this arti­cle pre­dicts the end of the PSTN (Pub­licly Switched Tele­phone Net­work) by 2018.  That, in and of itself, is a shock to soci­ety.  The PSTN embod­ies a huge com­plex struc­ture that includes our emer­gency ser­vices (911), ser­vices for spe­cial groups (TDD, etc) and, in some cas­es, our iden­ti­ty (9–6-7-“11” “11”).  And it was cre­at­ed large­ly by and still sup­port­ed through large sub­si­dies that fund less prof­itable but social­ly use­ful por­tions of the net­work through mon­ey paid into gov­ern­ment funds by more prof­itable por­tions of the net­work.  The shock to the sys­tem is that (in Amer­i­ca, at least … it may be that Canada’s high cell phone charges are slow­ing adop­tion in this coun­try) the lucra­tive urban cus­tomers are leav­ing the PSTN sys­tem for cell phones and/or oth­er inter­net ser­vices.

The real shock­ing item in the arti­cle, though, is the graph which seems to say that the US has only 60 mil­lion PSTN lines as of 2011.  That means that rough­ly 1 in 6 US cit­i­zens cur­rent­ly has PSTN ser­vice.  That num­ber is sub­stan­tial­ly low­er than even I expect­ed.

The arti­cle goes on about how the gov­ern­ment should plan an end to the PSTN just like it did for ana­logue broad­cast tele­vi­sion… to pre­vent it’s inevitable col­lapse which would lead to many rur­al (and elder­ly) peo­ple with­out com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Uni­ver­sal broad­band may some­times sound like a lux­u­ry, but remem­ber that we don’t con­sid­er “uni­ver­sal access” (what the tele­phone sub­si­dies are often grouped under) a lux­u­ry.

Think­ing on this whole issue, I enjoyed the sub­tle cra­dle to grave sto­ry where the inter­net, born of the tele­phone net­work (run­ning, in the ear­ly days, as phone calls using modems) even­tu­al­ly inte­grat­ed with the tele­phone net­works and has already sur­passed tele­phone net­works.  Soon will come the day that tele­phone calls are as incon­se­quen­tial in the mass of inter­net pack­ets as the orig­i­nal inter­net was to the phone net­work.

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