The FCC Needs a Framework for the Phone Network Transition First

February 25, 2013 ,

As the debate surrounding the technological transition of
the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to an all-IP network continues,
it’s becoming fairly obvious that the guardians of the phone network need to
handle this transition by establishing fundamental principles to guide our
country’s policies moving forward. Today, Public Knowledge filed reply comments with the
Federal Communications Commission urging the FCC to do just that.

Already, many different stakeholders have submitted specific
requests to the FCC to either keep or eliminate particular rules. Even at this
early stage, we’re seeing unanticipated complications pop up, like Federal
Aviation Administration service providers’
reliance on the traditional network, concerns for alarm systems that are geared to work on the existing infrastructure, and the need for the
new IP-based phone networks to continue to improve access for users with hearing
. There will
likely be many other examples of uses that depend upon the current network
infrastructure in particular ways that have until now flown under the radar, and we must
be ready with a framework that can handle those surprises.

A single, principled framework would also help the
Commission evaluate the proposals of all of the many parties in a deliberate,
coherent way. That way, instead of just arbitrating between the wish lists of
the many companies involved in this transition, the Commission can actually
move forward based on affirmative principles that reflect the fundamental
values of our national communications policies.

In our replies we’ve also noted that Comcast—and Comcast
alone—has proposed complete deregulation of the phone network after the
technological transition. As PK’s Harold Feld has so aptly explained,
this is a sobering reminder of how the Commission must remain on alert for carriers
trying to use the transition as an opportunity to leverage their market share against
smaller companies and consumers. If companies try to handle the phone network
the way they treat IP interconnection or subscription video services, disputes
could easily prevent consumers from using the phone network to contact
emergency 9-1-1 services, conduct business, and reach out to loved ones. The
Commission cannot wait for disaster to strike before it affirms that every American
can expect the post-transition network to continue to offer a basic level of network
reliability and public safety services.

At the end of the day, the Commission must adopt a framework
that lays out the fundamental principles that will guide every aspect of this
transition. In a previous filing,
PK proposed that the Commission establish five fundamental principles for guidance, focused
on service to all Americans, interconnection and competition, consumer
protection, network reliability, and public safety. It’s encouraging now to see
signs from the FCC supporting similar principles.
The Commission must follow through with these principles to ensure that the
phone network continues to attend to the same social needs and goals that we
have always expected our communications network to serve.