Website:Walter Gregg

On this page: Main Content. Only 4 talk hours in outages; Distortion and Echo; Unreliable Faxing; No Consumer Protection; Alternatives. Similar-issues.

Refusing GCI Digital Local Phone Service

Juneau April 29, 2017. Have you just received a letter from GCI ordering you to 'migrate your local phone service to the GCI network' or have dial tone cut off four weeks hence? Consider calling AlaskaCommunications.com. They can fire GCI on your behalf and become your local phone carrier. It's an easy, fast, and effective way to protest. And there are a host of reasons to do it.

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Only four talk hours (ten standby) in outages

On GCI's 'digital local phone service' (DLPS), if the power goes out, you can only talk for about four hours before you lose dial tone. If you don't talk, you might have dial tone for ten hours, but that puts into question the point of having a phone. Is this safe in an Alaska winter? Is it safe when someone vacuuming inadvertently unplugs GCI's phone adapter from the power outlet and dial tone disappears throughout an elder's house at 3:00 a.m.? Verification: gci.com: dlps-backup-power.

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Distortion and echo

On GCI's DLPS, even on local calls you may hear echo and quiet words may be squelched, making phone calls something to avoid instead of something to look forward to. Think of sentences slightly clipped at the start, quiet words being squelched out, having to ask people to repeat themselves, and when the dog barks, being interrupted by another bark coming back down the line. These problems are made much worse by the volume boosting handsets or amplified cordless phones that are essential for talking with the hard of hearing. They may even result in calls from prisoners being cut off. These issues are inherent to packetized voice (usually VoIP) technology and GCI's Juneau DLPS did have them when it was introduced. Cable company customers don't usually realize that you can't really get away from these problems unless you jump ship. Pretty much every thing else is a coverup. Reference: VoipMechanic.com: phone and voice quality. Example: forums.xfinity.com: Comcast Digital Voice Echo and Cutting Out.

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Unreliable faxing

On GCI's DLPS, you may find that fax machines and other 'legacy' devices that have always worked no longer do so reliably. Pacemaker monitors, medical assistance systems, home security systems, credit card dialup machines, satellite pay-per-view systems, parolee ankle bracelets -- you really have to take inventory before you can be sure you won't run into this. It may manifest as having to make several calls before the machines successfully 'handshake' and start communicating. It may manifest as calls being summarily dropped after a few minutes. Workarounds include (1) going without; (2) accepting the unpredictability; and (3) replacements that communicate some other way, such as cell or internet. But that may mean hundreds to thousands of dollars a year for something like always on (broadband) internet not previously required. These issues are not always serious, but they are inherent to packetized voice (usually VoIP) technology and GCI's Juneau DLPS did have them when it was introduced. The web is full of information on how to cope with the degradation in quality. Reference: VoipMechanic.com: Faxing issues

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No Consumer Protection

On GCI's DLPS, you no longer have the protection of Alaska's enforceable quality of service standards. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska (rca.alaska.gov) told me that because of an FCC rule, once you're on DLPS, they no longer longer have regulatory jurisdiction. And they explained that because GCI put in the tariff that they have the right to choose the underlying technology on 30 days notice, they can't stop the conversion. How convenient. Force conversion to a technology that is not subject to any enforceable quality of service standards. It's a common ploy. Reference: cio.com: Group Files Complaint Re Verizon Forced IP.

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Alternatives

Still, if you're happy with this, let them have their way. Otherwise, you might hire AlaskaCommunications.com (home service: 1.855.907.7006; businesses: 1.855.907.7007). You simply ask them to port your phone number(s) to their network. They'll take care of firing GCI. Of course there's no guarantee that ACS won't ever change the network. But you wouldn't get the GCI letter unless you were already on ACS wirelines so you should be safe for the time being. You might need your GCI account number and password when you call. You'll lose your GCI bundled prices, but you can probably get unbundled unlimited internet from www.TheSnowCloud.com for $65/mo; or bundled internet and phone from AlaskaCommunications. And even without internet TV, at least in downtown Juneau, you can get 8 channels on rabbit ears (3.1 KTOO/HD-PBS; 3.2 Create; 3.3 360North; 5.1 KXLJ/HD-NBC; 8.1 KJUD/ABC; 8.2 CW; 8.3 KTBY/Fox; and 24.1 KXLJ/HD-CBS).

As a last resort, you could rely on cell service. But if your house catches fire when your cell phone is at the office, has a dead battery, or is drying out in a bag of rice, you and your insurance company will wish you'd kept your house phone. It might be worth considering paying for a 'fixed cellular terminal' into which you can plug a touchtone phone or two. These won't do fax. And they do require a cell plan. One outfit, StraightTalk.com: Homephones will sell you one for $30 provided you sign up for one of their calling plans. You have to accept an out of state number (e.g. Portland or Seattle). They have a plan offering unlimited nationwide calling for just $15 a month. But is Alaska part of the nation? For the moment, it may be way simpler and less experimental to just have our local AlaskaCommunications.com port your phone number to their network.

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Similar issues

Phone companies are hardly alone at providing marginal technology that many people rightly reject. A reader suggested mentioning solutions for some of these other issues. (How interesting. There was a reader.) I'll just mention three.

In the old days, Bell Labs would have been all over this sort of thing. They did the basic research and development on which everything was built, and human engineering was a big part of it. Whatever happened to Bell Labs? Oh my gosh, they still exist, a division of Nokia. There is hope for the future.

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2017. (Walt.Gregg.Juneau.AK.US/6/refuse-gci-digital-phone; CreativeCommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0.)

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