AT&T has asked the FCC to start the process of
converting the country to the IP-based networks that can handle the merged
video, voice and data distribution the commission has been pushing via its
National Broadband Plan.
At the same time AT&T was announcing its $14 billion in
investment in broadband infrastructure on Wednesday, the company asked the FCC
to open a proceeding into removing regulations that require incumbent local
exchange carriers (ILECs) to maintain legacy facilities and services even after
it has deployed new, IP-based networks.
It points out that as the FCC migrates Universal Service
Fund subsidies to those legacy facilities in high-cost, rural areas, it will be
even harder for ILECs to maintain those legacy networks and the investments
those regulations require to be put into redundant service .
AT&T says rules that discourage incumbents, and
incumbents alone, from investing in new or upgraded IP networks are
"irrational and counterproductive" and make no sense because they
treat those incumbents as dominant providers in an IP-based broadband market
that others lead.
"[O]ne of the great ironies of 21st century telecom
policy is that the Commission persists in treating ILECs as thought they were
still monopolists even though, in today's convergent broadband environment,
they have been steadily losing ground to cable and wireless operators."
AT&T suggests that the FCC select some of the
incumbents' systems as test beds for transitioning from legacy circuit-switched
to next generation services.
Reacting to that FCC petition to launch the proceeding,
industry analyst Larry Downes praised the move in Forbes
Thursday, calling it is essentially the launch of "Internet
Everywhere," which he defines as the "the final stage of convergence
for old proprietary voice, video, and data networks to the open standards of a
single IP network."
Competitors to AT&T were not about to strew flowers
along the ILECs path to that convergent future.
"AT&T's announcement today that it needs regulatory
intervention from the FCC in order to invest in IP technology is a re-run of a
tired ploy to leverage the company's dominance," said the Broadband
Coalition, comprising competitive carriers. "AT&T only invests in
order to respond to competition, and competition is made possible by the very
pro-competitive policies that AT&T seeks to eliminate."
"We already know that AT&T's claim that IP will
somehow alter the laws of economics and lessen its dominance is patently
false," said coalition spokesman and former Congressman Chip Pickering.
" Clearly, AT&T's proposed changes are not necessary to achieve widespread
IP deployment, but the retention of competition policy is."