The FCC Gets Down to Details in IP Transition Trials
The FCC Gets Down to Details in IP Transition Trials
The FCC Gets Down to Details in IP Transition Trials

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    Federal Communications Commission has given more details about the trials it
    will use to gather information about the transition of our communications
    networks to Internet Protocol.

    One important step in the transition of our phone network from
    traditional TDM-based technology to IP (and in some cases from copper networks
    to fiber or wireless) is to figure out exactly how those new technologies are
    going to impact consumers. The FCC has now set out plans for a series of experiments on various aspects of the network transition.

    Right off the bat, the FCC starts on the right foot by setting
    out the core values that establish the purpose of the trials: “public safety,
    ubiquitous and affordable access, competition, and consumer protection.” Public
    Knowledge agrees with this approach—in fact, our own Five Fundamentals for
    the network transition
    agree with much of what the FCC has adopted.

    The FCC Order sets out three directions for the upcoming trials:

    Voluntary Service-Based Experiments

    The FCC asked providers to submit detailed proposals to test the
    real-world applications of the new technologies they would like to substitute
    for the traditional phone service Americans rely on. Every proposal will be
    opened to public comment before the FCC decides whether to approve it.

    Importantly, the FCC established that these initial trials will
    not force customers onto new technologies. This is a huge triumph for
    consumers. By making the trials voluntary for the individuals using the
    network, the FCC is protecting those who depend on the existing network for its
    reliability or ability to support services like Life Alert, fire alarms, credit
    card processing, and internet access. Those who want to test out new
    technologies are free to do so, while those who can’t risk moving onto an
    untested technology remain protected.

    The FCC also set out a list of specific conditions and
    presumptions each trial proposal must meet, guided by the core values of the

    • For public
      safety and national security
      , the experiments must: preserve 911 and Next
      Generation 911 capabilities; immediately restore service if there is a public
      safety failure; continue to support national security and public safety
      systems; protect the network from cybersecurity threats; ensure adequate backup
      power; and report network outages.
    • To ensure universal access, the experiments must: maintain universal service;
      prevent any reduction in quality of service; ensure access for persons with
      disabilities; and protect specific populations, like the elderly, those with limited
      English proficiency, low-income communities, Tribal lands.
    • To promote competition, the experiments must: maintain wholesale access to
      competitors and maintain interconnection and intercarrier compensation.
    • Finally, to ensure consumer protection, the trials must protect consumer privacy; comply
      with truth-in-billing, slamming, and cramming rules; maintain local number
      portability; and preserve call routing reliability.

    The FCC also required providers to give clear and timely notice
    to customers of the experiments, and will make these trials “open data”
    experiments to increase public input.

    Targeted Experiments and Cooperative Research

    The FCC also announced several more targeted experiments to
    examine particular aspects of the network transition:

    • Rural
      Broadband and Phone Service.
      As we hear more interest from carriers in
      deploying fixed wireless services in rural areas, and more interest from
      consumers in all areas in obtaining access to fiber networks, the FCC announced
      experiments to use funds from the Connect America Funds to test different
      technologies in unserved areas. These tests will help us understand what
      technologies customers and anchor institutions actually prefer, what aspects of
      the network they value, and which business models could achieve robust
      deployment to everyone.
    • Experiments
      for the Transition and Persons with Disabilities.
      FCC is structuring and funding research to continue to improve relay services
      used by customers with hearing disabilities. This research will be conducted
      with other agencies like the National Institute on Aging.
    • Numbering
      The FCC is starting a telephony numbering testbed to explore
      technical options and opportunities in an all-IP network. This testbed would be
      an engineering “sandbox” that examines security, number authentication, traceability,
      efficiency, portability, reliability, competition, predictable dialing
      protocols for users, and emergency dialing protocols.

    Ongoing Data Initiative

    Finally, the FCC is exploring ways to improve its data gathering
    efforts. This includes improving the consumer complaint process, conducting
    structured observations of NG911 deployment and otherwise improving information
    on key questions about consumer values. As part of this, the FCC will work with
    state, local, and Tribal governments to better share data. The FCC also asked
    for comments on how to deal with the “observer effect,” where entities change
    their behavior because they know they are being watched, and is seeking comment
    on experiments that examine the implications of the transition on health care.

    The transition of our communications network to IP is a
    tremendous undertaking, and it is critical that we understand how to
    protect consumers and make sure the network continues to serve its users first
    and foremost. The FCC’s proposed trials are necessary first steps to gathering
    information about the transition, so it can arrive at the right policies that
    continue to preserve our basic values throughout and after the transition.

    Photo by Flickr user Kim Carpenter.