AT&T asks FCC to set date to scrap old phone system

NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc told U.S. telecoms regulators that it should set plans for phasing out older telephone networks if the government wants to make high-speed Internet access available across the country.

AT&T, the original U.S. phone operator, described older voice-based “circuit switched” telephone systems and service as “relics of a by-gone era” in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission dated December 21.

It said that the government’s goal of 100 percent broadband Internet access is in reach only if resources are moved away from “plain-old telephone service”, known in the industry as POTS and the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

Otherwise “Congress’s goal of universal access to broadband will not be met in a timely or efficient manner if providers are forced to continue to invest in and to maintain two networks,” AT&T said in the filing.

“Due to technological advances, changes in consumer preference, and market forces, the question is when, not if, POTS service and the PSTN over which it is provided will become obsolete,” AT&T said.

More than 90 percent of the population has access to broadband, according to AT&T the country’s biggest operator with expected 2009 revenue of about $123 billion. It said that phone companies will continue to work to cover the rest of the country, but will need some encouragement from regulators.

AT&T was created in the late 19th century to build a communications network that would stretch across the United States, and became the dominant U.S. phone company.

It has gone through multiple changes since then, including a breakup in the 1980s, but remains the largest U.S. telephone company by revenue.

Reporting by Sinead Carew. Editing by Robert MacMillan