What would it mean to “turn off” the public switched telephone network” as IP becomes better established? It’s a real question for the Federal Communications Commission, whose Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) is supposed to recommend ways the FCC can help prepare for the day when the PSTN is “turned off,” much as earlier generations of wireless networks were simply deactivated.

Among the issues is setting a date for terminating the PSTN, much as the FCC had to set an actual date for turning off the older NTSC TV system. Most likely, such a date would have to include virtually universal broadband service everywhere, since the IP alternatives will require broadband, in all likelihood. The other issue is wireless broadband coverage, which might be able to supplement fixed-line coverage in some remote locations.

The decision isn’t so much a sunset date for physical media, of course, but for the old voice network, with its switching and signaling infrastructure. That’s another way of looking at “voice” or communications services.

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Turning off the PSTN means the general-purpose IP and broadband network handles all the message types and media. There literally will not be a separate voice network. Instead, Angry Birds and voice will move over the single general-purpose network (networks, actually).

The advisory panel is chaired by Tom Wheeler, an experienced Washington, D.C. lobbyist whose work has included heading the national cable and wireless trade associations.

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