Tuesday, December 24, 2013

a phone system with safeguards

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Tue, Dec 24, 2013 at 8:34 AM
Subject: re: a phone system with safeguards
To: "letters@nytimes.com"

To the Editor:
     Technologies change with time, and the law must change with them. Rights, however, are supposed to endure. So while we modernize our phone system, we must take care that we preserve its virtues.  The U.S. supreme court found in Katz v. United States in 1967 that we enjoy a presumption of privacy in the content of our phone calls, and that to intrude on that ("tap a wire") requires a court warrant.  That same presumption of privacy has never been found for our cell-phone conversations. So to give up Plain Old Telephone Service ("POTS") would be to infringe on an established right.
   We should not be forever married to Alexander Graham Bell's copper wire technology; we have learned a lot about signal transmission in the intervening century. But neither should we retreat from what are established rights. If we are to give up POTS, it must be in the context of establishing in law that we enjoy a presumption of privacy for the content of all phone conversations, be they by wire, by cell tower, by satellite or by a technology yet to be developed.
Barry Haskell Levine



A Phone System With Safeguards

Published: December 23, 2013 102 Comments
Is it time to phase out the telephone system that has been with us since the days of Alexander Graham Bell?


The Federal Communications Commission is grappling with this question as more Americans switch from wired phones to cellphones and Internet-based services like Skype. The number of conventional phone lines has fallen by about half since 2001, to 96 million at the end oflast year, while the number of wireless subscribers have more than doubled, to nearly 305 million.
Some telecommunications companies like AT&T argue that the country needs to begin moving away from the traditional system, in which copper wires connect phones to big machines known as switches, to a more efficient Internet-based system that work over wireless or fiber-optic technologies.
The F.C.C. is expected to authorize AT&T and other phone companies to replace conventional telephone wires with wireless or fiber-optic connections in certain neighborhoods or a large rural area to see how such a change would work in practice.
Some might wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, many Americans already communicate primarily on cellphones and the Internet, using traditional land lines only occasionally. But it would be a mistake to put all of our faith in cellphones and the Internet. Conventional phones remain an important mainstay for many households and provide a lifeline in emergencies because they get their power from the copper wires that connect them to the telephone network. Phone companies maintain backup batteries and electricity generators at their central offices to make sure service is uninterrupted during blackouts. But consumers have to plug in devices to use cellphones and Internet-based services, which means there’s a risk of losing service if the electricity goes out.
As the F.C.C. deals with new technology, it needs to keep in place safeguards that have long ensured that the phone system serves everyone. Today, Americans who cannot afford regular phone service can get a subsidized wired or wireless connection. That should continue even if the underlying technology changes.
While some Internet-based phone services like Skype do not currently allow calls to 911, regulators should make sure new technology used by phone companies will allow consumers to dial emergency services. And as telecommunications companies upgrade their networks, they should continue to connect to each other’s systems and to devices like home alarm systems and heart rate monitors seamlessly.
America has a long history of telecommunications innovation since Bell made the first call to Watson nearly 140 years ago. The issue is not whether the phone system needs to be upgraded. It’s how.

No comments: