The telecommunications industry is undergoing great upheaval during the transition from POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) to wireless and next generation Internet Protocol-based telecommunications technology, producing mixed and seemingly paradoxical company news.
Case in point: Roseville, Calif.-based SureWest Communications. The fiber to the premises telco announced this week it would lay off seven percent of its work force due to weakness in the POTS side of its business at the same time the IP side of its shop is growing.
An obvious question is why not retrain or shift the downsized POTS workers to accommodate the growth in IP-based services? The answer: while demand for IP-based services is stiff and will only grow stronger, growth prospects in that segment are constrained by the inability of investor-owned telcos like SureWest to build out their IP infrastructures to reach more customer premises. Doing so requires more CAPEX than their business models can accommodate.
SureWest's big counterparts, AT&T and Verizon, have slowed their IP infrastructure buildouts. AT&T began hitting the brakes on its mixed fiber/copper Project Lightspeed/U-Verse buildout as general economic conditions deteriorated in 2008. Just before last Christmas, AT&T went as far as pronouncing its POTS business in a "death spiral." Verizon recently stopped expanding the footprint of its fiber optic FiOS plant and repositioned itself as an urban wireless provider.
The demand for IP services is strong, providing a potential growth industry at a time when jobs and economic activity are greatly needed. (Consider that most residential customers have retained their IP services during the current recession). But the legacy POTS carriers can't ramp up to meet it. That situation requires alternative providers such as local governments and consumer telecom cooperatives step up to meet the need.