Presidents and first-responders need to have quick access and top priority to the telephone lines in a crisis. A new AT&T proposal would strip that priority away, and may end up endangering people, too.
AT&T is switching its network from old copper lines to high-speed fiber optics. In doing so, each telephone call will be treated like data, which would enable new technologies, such as hi-def voice and video calls and enhanced 911.
But in doing so, the company wants to drop priority service for a special service called GETS, the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service. It allows the president or any high-level official with a special PIN to dial a special number and get priority service, even if phone traffic is at a standstill. About one-tenth of one percent of people in the U.S. have access to the system.
AT&T wants to leave behind responsibility for linking GETS calls, which would force the priority calls to compete with other local calls in a crisis.
"All the Internet knows how to do is pass things from point A to point B," said Jason Healey, a security expert and a former George W. Bush administration official. "So if there's a denial-of-service attack, and VoIP was significantly throttled back, the Internet itself would not know that this is the president's VoIP call trying to get through."
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