I’ve recently read a very interesting article about  the disposition of POTS ( plain old telephone service) lines getting lost in a tangled maze of voice delivery systems in the USA,  which is increasingly cutting off rural areas from the country’s telephone grid. What I’m about to expound upon may appear controversial to some. All I can say is, “Oh Well.”

POTS lines are  the aging copper wires that connect the nation’s land lines. ISDN  lines consist of  twisted pairs of copper wires that  make up the circuit-switched network once primarily owned and operated by AT&T across the USA.

AT&T started as the universal carrier of telephone service in the early 1900’s. By 1940, it began to adapt to and provide newer technologies,beginning with microwave, and later, satellite transmissions via Telstar,  then  cellular, wireless, and today,  fiber. The company became a monopoly.  In 1984,  “Ma Bell” was ordered by the goverment’s anti-trust orders to break up into the “baby-bells”, and divided much  its ownership rights and equipment into eight regions. By 2011, AT&T was involved in another anti-trust litigation when it intended to merge with T- Mobile in which it would deliver service to 97% of the nation’s users.

Today, many long-distance POTS connections, including ISDN are becoming increasingly garbled, lost and corrupted by static.


The reason is the growing complexity of the overall global communications system, which is rapidly morphing into Internet-based technologies and wireless connections.

POTS and ISDN call switched circuits were once completely carried over copper wires, from end to end over a network of dedicated circuits, from point A to B.  Those were the days of  universal service and there was basically one company that provided it, AT&T. Today, reliable POTS is unfortunately becoming too expensive  to maintain its  infrastructure  indefinitely.

The Public Service Commission even acknowledges that the days of POTS are over as today’s  network is fast becoming completely digital, “with calls reduced to bits and sent over a ( hugely massive) web of links provided by telephone, cable, cellular and fixed wireless providers.”

The “Bad Actors” are Tough to Identify

The biggest issues occur in the hinterlands,  the most rural areas of the country. This is generally the midsection of the country, excluding the east and west coasts , where long-distance and wireless carriers pay higher than normal rates to complete calls. The higher fees help pay to maintain the network and complete the calls. At the same time the those long-distance or wireless providers contract out to third-party “least cost – routing” services to connect at the lowest price.   Then calls are lost and rerouted and the  fines are not large enough to equal the amount of money saved by the providers by not completing calls.

When the provider has to interconnect with other providers to complete a call over the network, they end up making the interconnections digitally, just like what non or former ISDN users like myself do with a bridging or streaming  service. Or we’ll  just use video chat , social media, or VOIP apps to connect across the country or world.

This pretty much explains why the 45+ year old ISDN switched lines are experiencing more chirps, and drop outs, at least in my own experience, here in Milwaukee, and even when I had ISDN lines for several years in California.

Heck, I’ve even had my regular telephone calls lost completely within the AT&T system while trying to cancel my ISDN service. It took an hour to get to someone to help me get  it done. The phone numbers to the department handling my ISDN service were either disconnected, sent to a call center in India that didn’t understand what I was talking about, or  ended up being connected  to a completely wrong department.

We  chose to disconnect our land line via AT&T U-verse because it just didn’t work, despite how many routers their technicians replaced. Even the initial  installation of the service had issues and we had to push to make it happen after the first tech told us it couldn’t happen. He tried to call his department supervisor for help but it was looped to a wrong number within their own system.

Cell phones and internet are our business and personal communication tools for now.

Got  Plan B?

Like the canary in a coal mine, what is happening to telephone transmissions throughout regions large and small within the middle United States is indicative of something that’s not only been happening  for years, but is certain to get worse. While our telcos are adapting rapidly to new media technologies, many recording studios in my opinion maintain a parochial position and hang, perhaps blindly in the comfort zone believing copper lines as the only reliable choice. What’s the back up plan for that very important call or recording session between New York and LA or to Nowhere, Nebraska? Or an emergency call to a doctor or family member?

What has been your experience? What do you foresee?