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 …