Senators examine the opportunities and challenges posed by
the transition of America’s phone lines from the traditional network to new, internet-based
The public telephone
network remains the backbone of our nation’s telecommunications infrastructure,
but any changes in technology need to reflect a bedrock principle— we must make
sure the transition results in an actual upgrade in technology without a
downgrade in the services upon which Americans depend.
Leaders from telecom,
rural broadband, and Internet industry joined PK’s President Gigi Sohn
to discuss the challenges of the IP transition at the Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on the “State of Wireline
Communications” last Thursday.
There were a number
of issues raised at the hearing that will require policymakers to act as more
and more consumers cut the cord and move to mobile wireless and VoIP services. The
FCC has been tasked with providing guidance with national policy, but changes
are already happening at the state level.
Mr. Jerry James from
COMPTEL responded to questions regarding the proper role of State regulation—approximately
25 states have already deregulated retail services, but have continued to
protect business service regulations because of the different types of market
PK realizes that
States who deregulate State commission authority over telecommunications
services may still be relying on the continued operation of federal
protections. Even if States choose to deregulate, we need a federal safety net
so states can experiment without eliminating protections that ensure everyone
can connect to everyone else.
There is noticeable
bipartisan interest in the FCC authority and efforts to address the problem of
rural call completion. This bipartisan support for FCC action is led by Senators
Klobuchar, Fischer, Thune, Pryor, and Boxer on the Commerce Committee. These members are sponsoring a
resolution asserting the authority of the FCC to act and enforce call
completion for rural communities.
The resolution might even be voted on in the Committee this week.
Ms. Shirley Bloomfield
from the NTCA believes the FCC should ensure current safeguards remain in place
during the transition in order to protect consumers and the public safety.
Similarly, PK recommends Congress and the FCC need to make sure they have the
authority to make sure rural residents have their calls completed. Once the IP
transition is complete—it will be too late to act—the FCC will have lost the
opportunity to act.
We have already seen
what can go wrong with the IP transition on Hurricane Sandy ravaged Fire Island,
where Verizon replaced their damaged copper network with Voice
Link wireless service. The chart below presented during the testimony,
compares the services of Verizon’s copper network that are not supported by
Voice Link. Reliable 911,
medical alerts, security systems, and broadband access, are just a few of the
examples of critical services already lost during a transition that is leaving
customers behind—a 21st century transition that should be putting consumers
Our nation’s phone
network became the unparalleled success we know today because our policymakers
fundamental principles. The technology we use to communicate may be
changing during this transition, but our basic social goals and values need to remain
should serve to guide the transition to ensure the critical services that
Americans have come to depend on remain in place and continue to serve the
nation’s telecommunications needs for the next 100 years.