The move to an all IP communications network is well underway. Most everyone in the telecommunications industry ecosystem recognizes this, yet there is disagreement on how best to manage the transition from the legacy PSTN to a wired and wireless IP dominated network. The FCC has the unenviable task of refereeing this transition, at least as it relates to the policy and regulations that govern it. With that in mind, the FCC has created a task force, the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, to determine how to “…best ensure that our nation’s communications policies continue to drive a virtuous cycle of innovation and investment, promote competition, and protect consumers.”

No easy task, given the range of opinions on this critical subject. How do you move from a set of regulations that was built to govern a copper based network engineered for consistent voice quality to a regulatory framework that governs an interconnected wireline and wireless IP network, where location and boundaries no longer matter and consistent quality is defined in different ways? On top of that, you have deeply entrenched special interests with widely varying points-of-view on this issue which also has significant implications.for global competitiveness and national security. No pressure for Sean Lev, the FCC’s General Counsel, who will serve as Interim Director for the task force, right?

According to a FCC press release, “Among other issues, the Task Force will coordinate the Commission’s efforts on IP interconnection, resiliency of 21st century communications networks, business broadband competition, and consumer protection with a particular focus on voice services.”

At its core, we’re talking about sun setting the PSTN and embracing an all IP network. I think most everyone would agree that’s already happening. The problem is the details. How do you do it in a way, that doesn’t ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, relative to the hundreds of legacy carriers that serve millions of consumers? While also ensuring that legacy regulatory thinking does not impede all of the possibilities that an all-IP world can empower. It’s a topic that has already engendered passionate discussion at the FCC. AT&T has made its views known, as have other telecom constituencies, including NTCA.

So the FCC has done what most government bureaucracies do when faced with difficult questions – set up a task force. “The Task Force will conduct a data-driven review and provide recommendations to modernize the Commission’s policies in a process that encourages the technological transition, empowers and protects consumers, promotes competition, and ensures network resiliency and reliability,” says the FCC in their press release. In some ways the FCC should be commended for this effort. But I could also make the argument, where have they been, given this process is already well underway?

Stay tuned …

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3 thoughts on “FCC Task Force to Address Critical IP Transition

  1. I applaud the FCC for doing this, but fear it will turn into a watered down special interest dominated effort. The outcome won't address the problem. Kind of like how the National Broadband Plan really doesn't do much to get ubiquitous broadband in place.

  2. A mistake is being made if the "old" PSTN is dismantled before it has a chance to compete. I use POTS, Fax, and DSL, as well as Skype, cellular, and many SIP-based communications services embedded in various unified communications solutions.

    All solutions have their place.

    The PSTN, (POTS specifically) may seem old-fashioned, but it's still universal, powered, and delivers voice, data, and some level of video reliably. It's been burdened by politically motivated State regulators and unfriendly unions – stripping away the business investment needed to survive.

    Indeed, the market for basic residential and small business services such as POTS, DSL, and Fax should be considered foundational to our society, and a lunch point for better. As a Cable cord-cutter, more than ever I rely on the PSTN as an alternative. Cable would effectively monopolize us otherwise….jacking rates every Christmas when the spirit of giving and spending is highest – and they know it, and get away with it. If you think cellular is the better alternative, it's not the IP service we're talking about here.

    Maintenance cost is the issue for the "old" PSTN, but this can be managed and should be the focus of the PSTN industry – emphasis on rapid deregulation. Regulators should see the silver-lining in the PSTN for its value – a truly national platform that's independent of short-term technological, political, or social shifts. It's time for stuffy regulators and grey-haired tariff lawyers to bow out, or we lose it. The PSTN needs to be freed from the old regulatory burdens and unchained from costly unionization. If so, it can compete, especially with Cable, whether the telephone guys chooses TDM or IP to deliver the call.

    What other choices are there?

  3. For the past 130 years, copper as a transmission medium has served the U.S. well; however, the Feds and State regulators must incent the companies that were known as telcos to make the transition to fiber optic. If one of those new lit up landlines was everywhere, just think about all the new "apps" that would be developed because bandwidth wouldn't be a problem.

    What a wonderful world 4G-LTE for pretty good data and mobility and fiber at the home and work that would be smoking? Push to make this border-to-border AND coast-to-coast for the big boys and little minions out there. Wireless and fiber in a carrier class network with the reliability and quality that has been continually slipping over the past 15 years.

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