Continuing our explanation of Public
Knowledge’s Five Fundamentals to guide the phone network upgrade to an
IP-based system, this week we’ll elaborate on the third principle: protecting
The need for consumer protection builds upon PK’s previous
two principles for the PSTN transition. The first principle states that
everyone has the right to be a consumer of the phone network and that phone
carriers have a duty to bring service
to all Americans. The second principle promotes competition
and interconnection between carriers, meaning that anyone should be able to
place a call to another person, regardless of which phone company they use.
Interconnection and other competition policies lead to a healthy,
consumer-friendly market for phone service.
Yet competition between carriers does not always guarantee all
aspects of consumer protection. PK’s third principle ensures that all consumers
are protected from potential harm dealt to them by their phone service
providers, by enforcing privacy principles, truth-in-billing, and safety from
It is important that the consumer protections ensured in current
communications law are updated to reflect the IP-based infrastructure of the
future. Today, the law explicitly protects consumers’ confidential information,
and the FCC has relied on its authority over the traditional phone network to extend
this protection to VoIP (voice over internet protocol) services. But the FCC
has jurisdiction over other safeguards like “slamming rules” and “cramming
rules” that they have yet to apply to VoIP providers.
“Slamming rules” prevent telephone carriers from switching
their subscribers’ service without permission, and “cramming rules” prevent
carriers from adding charges to a customer’s phone bill without their
permission. Both of these protections apply to traditional telephone users, but
not to users of IP-based phone services. As managed VoIP replaces the old telephone
network infrastructure, the FCC needs to consistently treat the two technologies
as equally deserving of consumer protection. There can be no picking and
choosing when it comes to consumer privacy and truth-in-billing.
The telephone network is undergoing a necessary and
inevitable upgrade to an IP-based system. As part of this transition, The FCC
must ensure that consumers continue to be protected from predatory practices,
regardless of which technology their phone company uses. The fundamental
principle of consumer protection, along with the other four principles of
service to all Americans, interconnection and competition, network reliability,
and public safety will guide the transition of our phone system into a future
that serves the technological needs of the people better than ever before.