The FCC today took steps to address two open issues that have been lingering for many months – TDM-to-IP transition trials and a broadband Connect America Fund program for small rural telcos.
Rather than making any decisions, the commission outlined plans to seek input on how it should proceed on both of these issues. But what was said at today’s monthly FCC meeting offers a sense of how the commission is thinking about the issues.
Rural telcos will want take heed of officials’ comments suggesting that they see a substantial role for wireless in delivering broadband and that some small business and anchor institutions may not have access to advanced broadband.
The commission today invited proposals for TDM-to-IP transition trials on a limited geographic basis and set a goal of providing a decision in May about which proposals it would adopt. FCC officials said the purpose of the trials is not to test technology or decide law and policy but instead should focus on the impact of such trials on consumers.
As communications service providers seek to phase out traditional TDM-based voice service in favor of IP-based broadband and wireless alternatives, it will be critical to maintain four key values, several FCC officials said. These include competition, public safety, universal access and consumer protection.
In a report and order, notice of proposed rulemaking and notice of inquiry adopted today but not yet available publicly, the FCC describes how it will evaluate proposals. Among other things, officials said the commission will consider the quality of data that proposals would deliver. The officials also said the commission will consult with state and tribal agencies in making its decisions.
The commission last year said it planned to conduct TDM-to-IP transition trials and in May offered a specific proposal but never moved on that proposal.
The order and notices adopted today also seek proposals on trials aimed at helping to determine what form a rural Connect America Fund program should take. The commission seems to be referencing small rate-of-return carriers, as plans for price cap carriers are largely in place, calling for broadband funding to be made available to them through a cost model.
At today’s meeting a senior FCC official outlined issues the commission hopes to address, including:
- The level of interest in deploying high-speed scalable infrastructure
- The characteristics of areas where service providers would offer wireless data services at prices comparable to urban wireline carriers
- How anchor institutions would be impacted
- How working with other organizations can advance shared objectives of deploying next-generation networks
The official outlined a two-part application process, with interested parties submitting expressions of interest by March 7, to be followed by a more formal application process at an unspecified date.
Officials emphasized the fact that the rural CAF trials would not increase the size of the Universal Service fund and would not impact the timeline for implementation of the CAF program for price cap carriers. They also announced plans for several workshops, including one on rural broadband, but dates were not specified.