Each week we’ve focused on one of Public Knowledge’s five
fundamentals for the PSTN transition to an all-IP (Internet Protocol) phone
network. We believe that the principles of service
to all Americans, interconnection
and competition between carriers, consumer
protection, network reliability, and public safety are needed to guide the
technological upgrade while keeping the necessities we’ve all come to expect
from the phone network.
Today, let’s talk about one of the most basic principles of
the phone upgrade: the network still has to function reliably.
The phone system’s transition away from older TDM-based
technology and toward the newer IP-based service is a welcome change. The network’s
traditional technology is rapidly becoming obsolete and voice over IP (VoIP) has
the potential to offer more efficient, higher quality service. That being said,
phone companies absolutely cannot sacrifice network reliability for upgraded
technology. From natural disasters to
basic network mechanisms like distributing phone numbers, the phone network
must continue to function with the complete reliability we expect today.
Only a few months ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east
coast, leaving massive power outages in its wake. As the power grid shut down,
many people who lost access to the internet, VoIP, and video services were
forced to use neighborhood payphones to call friends and family in the
aftermath of the storm. When the traditional phone network no longer exists, we
risk losing the safety net we all rely upon.
How reliable the new network will be depends on the policy
decisions we make now. The FCC has authority to ensure the reliability of the
phone network and will need to guarantee an equal or better level of robustness
during and after the transition to an all-IP system.
Just as the upgraded phone network must work reliably in a
natural disaster, we should also be assured that it works day to day. The FCC
exercises its authority over certain fundamental mechanisms of the phone
system, such as distributing phone numbers, which must still function
throughout and after the transition. But, the FCC currently bases its authority
to administer things like phone numbers on its authority over the traditional phone
network, raising the question of what will happen once that infrastructure has
been cleared away for newer technology. How will phone numbers work in a world
without the traditional PSTN? Which phone service providers will be able to obtain
and distribute phone numbers, and from where will they get them? These are
critical questions that the FCC must answer as we move away from the
familiarity of the PSTN’s older technology.
It is the FCC’s responsibility to ensure that consumers can
rely on the phone network every day, rain or shine. There must be a guaranteed
minimum level of robustness during and after the transition to an all IP phone
The technology behind our digital infrastructure is evolving
but the original goal of the phone network remains the same: it needs to work.