FCC Plans to Examine Impact Of TDM-to-IP Trials in 2014

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Nov. 19 --The Federal Communications Commission will soon consider the best ways for companies to retire traditional landline telephone services in favor of Internet Protocol communications services, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a blog post.

Wheeler's Nov. 19 announcement is a sign that the FCC will actively engage telecommunications carriers like Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. as they seek to replace their traditional telephone equipment based on time-division multiplexing (TDM) with IP networks that efficiently transmit digital information to consumers.

“The way forward is to encourage technological change while preserving the attributes of network services that customers have come to expect--that set of values we have begun to call the Network Compact,” Wheeler wrote. “We have listened, and now it is the time to act.”

Wheeler said the FCC's Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update Dec. 12 on AT&T's pending proposal to coordinate tests at wireline facilities that would replace the company's TDM facilities with IP-based alternatives. The task force previously proposed to begin real-world trials to understand what policies are needed to protect consumers, promote completion and ensure network resiliency of IP-based networks. The commission will then consider “an order for immediate action” at its January open meeting, Wheeler said.

Recommendations in Order

Wheeler said the forthcoming IP transition order should include recommendations to the commission on how best to:

• “obtain comment on and begin a diverse set of experiments that will allow the commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of such transitions;

• collect data that will supplement the lessons learned from the experiments; and

• initiate a process for commission consideration of legal, policy, and technical issues that would not neatly fit within the experiments, with a game plan for efficiently managing the various adjudications and rulemakings that, together, will constitute our IP transition agenda.”


The draft order should also include recommendations of how to “speed the initiation of experiments and assess, monitor, measure, and analyze their outcomes,” Wheeler said.

“How consumers are informed and protected should be a major component,” he said. “In addition, the order should explain how the commission can best obtain accurate and useful information about the technology transition from multiple resources that could include collaboration with other federal, state, and tribal agencies, public input through crowd sourcing, and leveraging outside expertise and advisors. And it should set forth the best process that the commission can initiate so that, in parallel, it may decide the legal and policy questions raised by this network revolution.”

AT&T Applauds Announcement

AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs Jim Cicconi commended the announcement as a “significant step forward for the industry” and “critical for American consumers,” according to a news release.

“Our current infrastructure has served us well for almost a century but it no longer meets the needs of America's consumers,” Cicconi said. “The geographic trials directed by Chairman Wheeler will provide the real world answers needed to ensure a seamless transition. We're committed to work closely and constructively with the FCC and with all stakeholders to ensure this process succeeds and the goals set forth in the National Broadband Plan are achieved.”

Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld, in a separate news release, said it's important that the FCC show that this transition is not just about AT&T or any other carrier. “It impacts the lives and well-being of every American,” Feld said. “Nobody should doubt that this is a complex process, but it's important that the FCC lead the transition and take a major role in coordinating its outcome.”

A recent Internet Innovation Alliance study revealed that incumbent local exchange carriers have spent $81 billion, or 53 percent, of their capital expenditures from 2006 to 2012 on legacy infrastructure like copper telephone wires. Meanwhile, only five percent of U.S. households continue to rely on plain old telephone service (POTS) alone, said the report, which cited FCC data.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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