FCC Chair Moves Forward On The Phone Transition: What To Expect For The Next Few Months.
FCC Chair Moves Forward On The Phone Transition: What To Expect For The Next Few Months.
FCC Chair Moves Forward On The Phone Transition: What To Expect For The Next Few Months.

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    Federal Communications
    Commission Chair Tom Wheeler’s blog post announcing his intent to have the FCC issue
    an Order on the process to transition the phone system in January kicks things
    into high gear. 

    I noted
    previously that Wheeler started out strong, with good opening remarks and a
    staff prepared to start working immediately on the major issues. But even I was
    surprised at his
    recent blog post
    , announcing his intent to get an Order out on the
    transition of the phone system
    by January.

    We Pause To Recap Our
    Story So Far.

    For those just joining us, the “Future of the Phone System,”
    refers to the massive and wide ranging project of phasing out traditional phone
    technology for Internet protocol (IP) based systems and wireless systems. This
    sometimes gets called the “PSTN Transition” (PSTN stands for “public switched
    telephone network,” a fancy way of saying things with phone numbers that use
    the phone system) or the “IP Transition” (because we are moving the phone
    system to IP).

    This transition has
    been going on quietly in the background for years
    . About a year ago,
    AT&T kicked
    it up a notch by asking the FCC
    to “begin a dialog” on how to phase out the
    old phone technology and to rethink what rules we ought to have for the phone
    network going forward. AT&T also suggested doing two “technical trials,” by
    which it meant ‘please let us start playing with this without any regulatory
    oversight – it’ll be awesome cool!’ This promptly caused a major freak out in
    telecom land, with folks on one side accusing AT&T of trying to get out of
    its regulatory responsibilities, rip off consumers, crush competition, etc.,
    and others saying that wholesale elimination of all those pesky legacy rules
    was just the thing to unleash the engines of innovation, encourage investment,
    bring us to the dawn of a new golden age, etc.

    The FCC responded to this collective freak out in telecom
    land in its usual fashion, it formed a task force and took a couple of
    rounds of public comment
    .  Then Chairman
    Genachowski left, putting things pretty much on hold until Wheeler could get
    confirmed. So for the last six months, setting aside the occasional
    Congressional hearing
     and this summer’s “Adventures In Voice Link – Sponsored
    By Verizon
    ,” everyone in the telecom world dealing with this issue has been arguing
    the same points back and forth and wondering when the heck something would

    Where is PK In All

    We’ve taken the position that (a) it’s a good thing to
    upgrade our phone system
    ; (b) we need to make sure that the same social
    values that made our phone network totally awesome for everyone for the last
    100 years
     guide this transition and form the foundation for whatever new rules
    and policies we adopt; and, (c) This needs to be an upgrade for everyone, not
    an upgrade for some and a downgrade for others.

    In addition, we need to make sure things do not get screwed
    up in the transition.
     As I explained in my testimony last month, there are a
    lot of little things already going wrong (a problem I refer to as “network
    ”). Instead of looking at state and federal oversight of the
    transition as a negative, people need to recognize that state and federal
    oversight are what prevent potential disasters like Fire Island from going

    O.K., We’re Caught
    Up. Now What?

    Wheeler says he wants some kind of Order for the January
    2014 FCC meeting (as yet unscheduled). An “Order” could mean any of the
    following: a policy statement giving the FCC’s general approach; a solicitation
    for specific technical trials; a Notice of Inquiry teeing up a bunch of
    questions; a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; or an actual Report and Order on
    any of the longstanding pending proceedings that bear on the Transition, such
    as the “copper loop retirement” proceeding” pending since 2007.

    That’s an awful lot of range. So lets try to narrow it down
    based on what we know.

    Smart Politics In The
    Blog Post
    : Wheeler salutes each of the Commissioners that predate him and
    praises something each one has highlighted before. First, Wheeler explicitly
    acknowledges Commissioner Ajit Pai’s repeated
    urging to move forward quickl
    y, particularly with authorizing AT&T’s
    proposed technical trials. At the same time, Wheeler also embraces Commissioner
    Clyburn’s caution
    that the FCC needs to move carefully, analyze all the
    facts, and make sure that vital services to consumers and public safety are not
    compromised during the transition.

    Most importantly, Wheeler explicitly embraces
    Commissioner Rosenworcel’s 4 Key Values for the IP Transition
    : “[a]s we develop a new policy
    framework for IP networks, we must keep in mind the four enduring values that
    have always informed communications law — public safety, universal access,
    competition, and consumer protection.
    ” Although we at PK have embraces a “Five Fundamental Values”
    we see substantial overlap between our framework and that of Commissioner
    Rosenworcel’s. Wheeler’s highlighting of these values as critical to his vision
    of the “Network Compact” that constitutes the rights of users and the
    responsibilities of network operators.

    By highlighting the work done before his arrival, Wheeler
    makes clear that his decision to move forward rapidly now implies no criticism
    of his predecessors. Also, by taking something from each Commissioner, he shows
    his desire to move forward in a collegial manner that will – hopefully – have
    buy in from a unanimous Commission.

    December 12 Preview: First
    up, Wheeler plans for the Transition Task Force to give
    a status report at the Open Commission Meeting on December 12
    . That will
    provide a great deal of insight into what Wheeler and staff see as the critical
    issues. We can expect that anything highlighted in the status report will be
    addressed by the Order in January, and that any questions highlighted by staff
    as needing answers will be the subject of much lobbying by stakeholders after
    the meeting.

    Stay tuned tomorrow as we discuss the technical trials and what happens next.