The FCC drew a flood of comments on AT&T's petition that
the FCC deregulate traditional circuit-switched phone regs as AT&T and
others make the switch to IP-delivered service, including from cable operators
who wanted to make sure that whatever the FCC did, it continued to ensure that
cable's VoIP phone traffic could have access to AT&T and other incumbent
local phone companies.
AT&T last fall asked the commission to open a proceeding
looking 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.
AT&T also asked the FCC to select some of the
incumbents' systems as test beds for transitioning from legacy circuit-switched
to next generation services, and removing the regs they say encumber that move.
That includes extending interconnection to IP, which AT&T suggests would be
grafting outmoded rules onto a next-generation technology.
In comments to the FCC, the National Cable and
Telecommunications Association said it generally favored a light-touch regulatory
approach to IP "retail" voice service, but said it should continue to
"oversee interconnection for the exchange of voice traffic to ensure there
is no harmful disruption to competitive providers and their customers as a
result of the incumbent LECs' technological transition."
Cablevision added its "amen" in separate comments,
putting in a plug for IP interconnection given that AT&T currently requires
it to convert to and from IP delivery to traditional TDM (time division
multiplex) delivery when interconnecting its VoIP traffic with AT&T and
Comments ran the gamut, including from minority groups
backing the AT&T petition, though with a focus on the test beds as a good
idea. Then there was Free Press. It argued that the AT&T petition was
tantamount to asking the FCC to end all Title II oversight of
The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, NAACP,
RainbowPUSH and other minority advocates said the supported the market test and
a dialog about the transition to IP. They called the proposed trials'
incremental and geographically limited approach a sensible method of
determining how to undertake this transition. But they reserved judgment on
AT&T's specific recommendations.
Free Press did not reserve judgment on AT&T's specific
suggestions. It said that if the FCC did launch an inquiry it would need to be
a broad one, since a narrow ruling on AT&T's individual requests could
result in the total deregulation looking into what the move to IP would mean
for regulation -- or in Free Press' view, the total deregulation of telecom
Free Press says the AT&T request is the first in a
series of dominoes whose fall would end in "complete 'non-regulation.'"
"AT&T and its kin have convinced the Commission
that the use of 'IP' by any entity to offer public communications services
renders that service an inextricably intertwined information service, with the
transmission functions lying outside the [common carriage] bounds of Title
II," Free Press argues.
Free Press sees other dominos that could fall if all telecom
services are classified as IP. "The Commission's Open Internet Rules are
based in part on ancillary authority to telecommunications regulations. But if
there are no longer telecommunications services subject to Title II, a major
rationale for these Open Internet rules vanishes. There is also inherent danger
in handing all oversight duties for our nation's entire communications system
to the companies whose converged business model forces broadband users to
subsidize the annual video programming price hike dictated by local
broadcasters and sports franchises."