What becomes of voice service in rural areas as the Federal Communications Commission has shifted its focus on “universal service” to “broadband,” instead of voice, is a reasonable question.
But the answer already is implied in the FCC’s thinking about universal service. Broadband, not dedicated “voice” lines, are the future that has to be protected, not particular ways of providing voice services.
By definition, broadband increasingly is the way voice and applications will be delivered, so the FCC is on sound ground in arguing that broadband access is the key parameter, where it comes to universal service.
As always, every public policy has distinct private interests, so there will continue to be lots of concern about the particular ways regulators sunset old regulations and enforce rules. Whether you believe the annual revenue at stake is “only $76 billion, as FCC data might indicate, or $132 billion, as the Telecommunications Industry Association pegs revenue, that business remains substantial.
There are few reasons to believe the slow, steady decline in U.S. fixed network voice lines has reversed course since 2008. Virtually all observers see a slow, steady decline in both lines and revenue.
Aside from the FCC’s new emphasis on broadband, there is the matter of the role played by wireless. Some might argue that between fixed network broadband, which can support any number of voice services, wireless provides a workable substitute.
Not everyone will be happy about those choices, but times change, and so have the massive profits that once allowed service providers to use the surplus from lucrative business services to subsidize rural users.
Change is coming, because it must. It will be uncomfortable, in some ways. But change always is, and there isn’t really a choice.