Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Ip Transition'

Tuesday, October 14

Boucher Talks the Future of Phones

By Brad

Earlier today, our own Rick Boucher joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Washington D.C.‘s WAMU to discuss the transition to all-IP networks and what that will mean for communication and innovation. Check out an archive of the conversation here.

Tuesday, July 08

Making the Leap

By Brad

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds more Americans than ever are moving away from traditional landline phone service. As The Hill’s Julian Hattem reports:

More than 4 in 10 American homes are landline phone-free and relying exclusively on cellphone service, according to a government survey released Tuesday.

That’s an increase over recent years, yet the growth of cellphone-only households might be slowing over time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.

The CDC has been mapping cellphone usage for years. The new analysis covered the last six months of 2013.

Given this ongoing trend of people giving up the traditional phone — along with the increasing cost of maintaining the network millions are leaving, it’s no surprise the FCC is currently working with carriers to sunset the traditional network in favor of Internet-powered networks.

For more on the transition to all-IP networks, check out this op-ed from our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on a beta trial underway in Florida.

Friday, June 13

Sitting This One Out

By Brad

At today’s FCC open meeting, Chairman Tom Wheeler recused himself from the Commission’s work on the transition to all-IP networks. As Kate Tummarello of The Hill reports:

At the agency’s June open meeting on Friday, Wheeler announced that he would not participate in the agency’s work on this topic, citing his tenure on the Board of Directors for telecom company EarthLink, which recently filed to participate.

Wheeler served on EarthLink’s Board of Directors for ten years before resigning last year after the Senate confirmed him to be FCC chairman.

 

Tuesday, May 27

Wheeler on Moving Forward

By Brad

Last Friday, when most people were gearing up for the long weekend, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was busy outlining the Commission’s agenda in an official blog post. Encouragingly, the transition to all-IP networks received top billing:

Next month’s open Commission meeting will be highlighted by an update on our efforts to facilitate the transition from the circuit-switched networks of Alexander Graham Bell to a world with fiber, cable and wireless Internet Protocol (IP) networks. This past January, the Commission unanimously adopted an Order inviting service providers to propose voluntary experiments designed to assess how the transition to IP networks impacts users and initiating targeted experiments. In three weeks, the Commission will receive a status report on proposed experiments and how best to deploy next-generation networks, while preserving enduring values like universal access, competition and consumer protection.

Tuesday, May 06

Mehlman on Special Access

By Brad

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At Fierce Telecom, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman has an op-ed examining complaints from competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) about the transition to all-IP networks. An excerpt:

It never really made sense to me why special access customers—primarily business customers—would want to (or should) be stuck with decades-old technology rather than using IP-based networks to reach their customers in new ways. But the argument of some CLECs that we need to preserve the old technologies (really, preserve the CLECs’ business models) for the benefit of special access customers is starting to fall apart. And it’s falling apart without government intervention, through the use of private, market-based agreements.

Head on over to Fierce Telecom for Mehlman’s full op-ed.

Monday, April 14

Ramos in Roll Call

By Brad

In an op-ed for Roll Call, IIA Broadband Ambassador Kristian Ramos makes the case for modernizing our nation’s networks. An excerpt:

As consumers continue to flee the aging telephone network, modernizing our telecommunications law is essential to provide the right incentives to accelerate high-speed broadband deployment and establish a regulatory framework that advances key consumer protections unique to 21st century broadband networks. Rules designed to address the antiquated telephone system during a monopoly era are ill equipped to promote a level playing field among numerous technologies and high speed broadband network providers. Robust and vibrant wireless and wired broadband is key to advancing economic opportunity, education, and civic engagement, and strengthening our global competitiveness.

You can read Ramos’ full op-ed at Roll Call.

Monday, March 10

Boucher in Florida

By Brad

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In an op-ed for the Sun-Sentinel in Florida, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher breaks down what the FCC’s IP transition test trial for a community in Delray will mean for residents. An excerpt:

You may have heard by now that Kings Point in Delray is one of two communities in the country that soon may get a Federal Communications Commission -sponsored test of a new broadband communications network to replace today’s telephone network.

While some of us may have an idle phone bolted to the wall, that’s no longer the case for the majority of Americans. Two-thirds have fled the outdated, copper-wire network entirely. In fact, only five percent of American households still rely on it exclusively.

The old telephone network, first invented by Alexander Graham Bell, is wearing out. And as with most technology of yesteryear, it has severely limited functions and capabilities.

You can read Boucher’s full op-ed at the Sun-Sentinal.

Friday, February 28

Boucher Gives AT&T-Announced Locations for IP Trials Vote of Confidence

By IIA

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From IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher:

Every month, 450,000 people make the transition from the old circuit-switched network to the new, IP-based world of telecommunications. Two-thirds of Americans have fled the old phone network entirely, and only five percent use it as their sole means of communication. It’s clear that consumers prefer newer products, services, and technologies in place of the old. Just as the telegraph once gave way to the telephone, and analog gave way to digital, so we stand at the threshold of another revolution in communication, as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone network gives way to the advanced IP broadband networks of tomorrow. In fact, by the end of this decade a sunset should occur for the antiquated circuit-switched telephone network.

As a key step in reaching that goal, in its filing today, AT&T has accepted the FCC’s call for the initiation of trials in select local markets where consumers will rapidly be transitioned from the old network to modern broadband communications platforms. The company in its filing underscored a thorough ongoing commitment to the core network values the Commission seeks to promote. Far from being a “regulation-free zone,” the future vision for an all-IP world is one in which communications services are accessible, secure, and reliable. Using the core values of universal service, consumer protection, public safety, reliability, and competition as its guidepost, the FCC can help speed investment in advanced networks that bring the benefits of high-speed broadband to everyone.

During the upcoming trials – to be held under the direct supervision of the FCC – government, consumers, and industry will all work together, in an open and transparent manner, to learn what can go wrong when the consumers who remain on the old telephone network are rapidly transitioned to modern broadband communications. With information from the trials, solutions can be put in place to ensure that the nationwide transition is a success for everyone.  And at this stage and throughout the trials, the traditional phone network will remain in place, providing protections, a kind of safety net, for those who still depend on the old system for essential communications needs.

As we move forward, I’m confident that the IP networks and services to be tested will exceed both consumers’ and the FCC’s expectations for service, reliability, and consumer protection.

Monday, February 24

Irving Looks Back

By Brad

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February being Black History Month, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving has penned an op-ed for The Root looking back at efforts to close the digital divide. An excerpt:

Secretary Brown was a firm supporter of the e-rate proposal that provided low-cost Internet connectivity to schools and libraries across America. He worked to develop policies and establish grant programs designed to connect schools, libraries, hospitals and rural health clinics. It’s a straight line from Secretary Brown’s commitment to connecting schools to the Internet two decades ago to the ConnectEd program the Obama administration supports today. Secretary Brown understood that, particularly in the early days of the Internet, millions of Americans would have their first experience with the Web in public institutions, and he fought to ensure those institutions had the resources they needed to serve their public. 

Perhaps most importantly, he understood that there was a “digital divide,” and that it was the role of government to assist industry in bridging that divide. The digital divide would have been deeper and more pervasive but for Secretary Brown.

It is his signature on the front page of the first report defining the digital divide and stating that we, as a nation, have an obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to essential technological tools. He knew that with government and industry working together and with the formulation of smart policies, we could drive Internet connectivity rates higher. In slightly more than two decades, we have gone from 2 million people with access to the Internet to almost 3 billion people having access worldwide. Much of that growth is the result of the vision and the work of Ron Brown.

Today we are at another technological inflection point, another time of great disruption. The mobile revolution and the so-called “IP transition” promise to be even more disruptive than the cable revolution and the Internet revolution. And they promise to provide great opportunity for the smart and the agile. Women and men of vision must step forward to embrace these twin revolutions and work to ensure that these new technological tools are used to improve education, increase access to health care and fitness tools and provide for greater productivity and economic opportunity for our community.

Check out Irving’s full op-ed at The Root.

Thursday, February 06

Boucher Looks Forward

By Brad

Back in 1996, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher played a major role in crafting the Telecommunications Act. For the Act’s 18th anniversary, he penned an op-ed for The Hill arguing that outdated regulations and the shift to broadband-based networks need to be the focus of any Act going forward. As Boucher writes:

The ’96 Act accomplished everything we intended. It unleashed a golden era of competition, service improvements, technological advancements and massive investments in high-speed broadband-capable networks. With the right public policies in place — policies favoring investments and newer technologies consumers want — this golden age will continue for all Americans.

The transition to IP networks, and the policy modernization that will accompany it, represent the largest telecom changes since the ’96 Act. It’s going to be an exciting several years.

Check out Boucher’s full op-ed at The Hill.

Wednesday, February 05

Boucher Talks Digital Networks

By Brad

Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher penned an op-ed for Roll Call yesterday examining the FCC’s recent push toward all-digital network technology. Here’s a taste:

Today, the FCC is both catching up and leading. It must catch up to the large majority of Americans who have made their own personal transition to smartphones, tablets and other devices that provide 24/7 connectivity to the Internet and its treasure trove of information and entertainment. At the same time, the agency also must lead by joining Congress in crafting an updated regulatory framework that supports continued innovation and network expansion and extending a helping hand to guide the minority of Americans who have not yet joined the digital world.

To complete the journey, Congress and the FCC must clear the road of outdated rules that made sense for the telephone monopoly era of the 20th century but which now slow the shift to the multitasking digital networks of the future.

Check out Boucher’s full op-ed at Roll Call.

Thursday, January 30

IIA Backs FCC Action to Initiate Local, High-Speed Broadband Network Demonstration Projects

By IIA

Says FCC-monitored trials will bring the nation one step closer to completing the transition to 21st Century modern broadband-enabled communications networks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 30, 2014 – Responding to today’s Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) action to “authorize voluntary experiments to measure the impact on consumers of technology transitions in communications networks,” the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) today issued the following statement:

“In launching a national framework for local trials of state-of-the-art broadband networks, the FCC ushers in the dawn of a new era of expanded consumer benefits and increased economic growth. Accelerating the ‘fourth network revolution’ will help unleash consumer benefits in education, healthcare, energy, business and rural development.

“We applaud the FCC’s new framework that enables stakeholders to address—in an open and transparent manner—the challenges posed by the nationwide move to next-generation broadband networks and creates an opportunity to establish consumer protections to ensure we ‘leave no one behind’ and pave the way for an easy and rapid transition for America’s consumers and businesses.

“We hope that, in the days ahead, the FCC’s vision for local market trials will mean more rapid deployment of next-generation networks that provide new broadband choices, better products, services and devices with enhanced functionality. Upgrading the nation’s communications infrastructure will fuel our economy, maximize investment and promote America’s global competitiveness. Conducting geographically-limited, closely-monitored IP demonstrations with consumer protections in place will build on the momentum of two-thirds of American households already choosing to live in an all-IP world.”

Thursday, January 23

First Do No Harm

By Bruce Mehlman

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Last week, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology began the long march toward a new Telecommunications Act, which hasn’t been updated since 1996.

If you tuned in, you probably asked yourself why it’s taken so long to kick-start the process — a fair question given how much the Internet has changed since new episodes of Seinfeld were on the air. While the 1996 Act was certainly effective in creating America’s broadband boom, like all legislation it has quickly been eclipsed by the speed of technology. If the lawmakers who penned the Act had anticipated something like Netflix or the iPhone would arrive in less than 20 years, they probably would’ve made some edits. They would also probably be billionaires by now.

That’s not a jab at the men and women behind the 1996 Act — a roster of lawmakers that included our own Rick Boucher — but rather, a reflection of the seismic shift that has occurred in our lives since the Act was signed into law. High-speed Internet has become such a powerhouse in our daily lives that for many of us it’s hard remember life offline. And now that most of us now carry a computer disguised as a phone in our pocket — a computer that’s always connected via mobile broadband — another major shift is underway. One that will certainly help shape the next Telecom Act.

That shift is the transition from the old telephone network to high-speed broadband based networks, which the FCC has announced will begin with test trials in pockets of America. What’s interesting about the transition is it’s both a major change and a minor one. It’s major because it’s nothing less than a complete overhaul of our communications infrastructure. At the same time, it’s minor because for many of us, the transition has already happened. Get your phone service from your cable and Internet provider? You’ve made the transition. Is your home wireless only? You’ve made the transition.

While the IP Transition wasn’t the major focus of the House hearing this past week, the path that brought us to this point was well represented. The testimonies of former FCC Chairmen Richard Wiley and Michael Powell in particular highlighted how a light regulatory touch has brought about the arrival of a high-speed broadband world. As Wiley told the Subcommittee in his prepared remarks, “The [1996] Act’s purpose was as simple in theory as it was complex in implementation: to provide for a pro-competitive, deregulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate the deployment of advanced services and open all telecom markets to competition.”

When examined that way, the 1996 Act was a smashing success. But as both Wiley and Powell pointed out in their testimony, the key to that success was avoiding the ever-present urge among policymakers to wield a heavy regulatory hammer. “Any consideration of a new Communications Act should be guided by the oath to ‘first do no harm,’” Powell told the Subcommittee, adding: “The communications infrastructure and market in this country have thrived, in stark contrast to the challenges with the power grid, or the transportation system.”

That same spirit of ‘first do no harm’ will be critical as we transition to next-generation broadband networks, particularly since the transition will mean the expansion of broadband access to millions of Americans. That’s a goal we can all get behind, and it’s one that will take billions in private investment to achieve.

Ensuring those billions flow means regulators and policymakers should do all they can to enable the private sector to invest and deploy high-speed broadband. That means moving quickly to kick off transition trials in local markets — something the FCC has already signaled its willingness to do — and revisiting existing rules that may slow the transition down.

“[T]he reality is that the government has great difficulty in writing laws or promulgating regulations that can keep pace with advancing technology,” Wiley told the Subcommittee, “especially so in a dynamic and ever-changing industry like communications.” While the former FCC Chairman was talking specifically about the Telecom Act, his words of warning also apply to the IP Transition. Whatever form the next Act ultimately takes, it will be signed into law in an all-IP world.

Here’s hoping regulators play their part in the IP Transition in a way that reflects the realities of our vibrant and competitive communications industry. More investment means better networks and increased access to broadband. And all it will take to get there is the type of light regulatory touch that got us here in the first place.

Friday, January 10

A Busy Year for the FCC

By Brad

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At the official blog of the Federal Communications Commission, Chairman Tom Wheeler lays out the Commission’s commitment to achieving the transition to all-Internet based networks. As the Chairman writes:

Among the biggest changes the FCC must confront are the IP transitions. Note the use of the plural “transitions.” Circuit switching is being replaced by more efficient networks – made of fiber or copper or wireless. Greater efficiency in networks can translate into greater innovation and greater benefits for network operators and users alike.

The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect. Those values: public safety, interconnection, competition, consumer protection and, of course, universal access, are not only familiar, they are fundamental.

Those very same values were highlighted by our own Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher in an op-ed for Bloomberg Government in November:

Government must play a key role throughout this process by advancing consumer interests with a transition plan guided by core principles. These basic protections will remain government’s responsibility even after the old phone system is shut down:

1. The commitment to universal service must endure. Next-generation high-speed broadband networks and their benefits must be available to every American. As we move beyond the old phone network, we cannot leave anybody behind. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their public service obligations, we must push the envelope to ensure that every American can access modern broadband service and enjoy the benefits that come with it. At a minimum, post transition everybody should enjoy service at least as good as they can now receive from copper-wire phone networks.

2. Public safety must be assured. 911 emergency calls must go through—every single time—no matter what technology or services consumers adopt.

3. Services for the hearing-impaired and those with vision problems also must be retained at levels that at least match what consumers enjoy today.

4. Consumer protection must remain at the heart of communications policy. Consumers must know that government has their back; that service providers will deliver on their promises; that spotty service, fraud, or other abuses will not be tolerated. Consumers must have a place to take complaints with confidence that something will be done about them.

5. Establishing a backup plan for power failures should be part of the transition process. The rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy exposed some potential weaknesses in the way our digital technology works today. While fiber-optic-based systems tolerate water damage that can short out copper wires, they are more vulnerable when the electricity at the user’s premises goes out.

6. Special retrofitting and other creative solutions may be required to ensure that modern networks function fully with personal and business equipment such as fax machines, security systems, health monitors, and credit card readers, even though they may not currently be compatible with today’s broadband connections.

While it’s encouraging Chairman Wheeler is taking the plunge when it comes to the IP Transition, in reality it’s just one of the major issues the FCC will face under his watch. As our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman argued in December, outdated regulations could make many of the FCC’s work difficult:

At the FCC, Wheeler inherits a regulatory regime designed decades ago for an earlier era. Voice and video services are regulated under separate provisions of the Communications Act of 1934 (Title II and Title VI, respectively) based on assumptions of a permanent monopoly and massive barriers to entry. The Act and its subsequent amendments fundamentally fail to acknowledge the competitive alternatives created by the technological and marketplace convergence of the broadband age. Today’s FCC-enforced regulatory framework was designed for a world without Netflix Inc., Skype Communications, Google Inc., or iPhones — a world without the Internet. Thus, the agency remains stuck in the past, distinguishing among companies based on the technology they use and their legacy status under the Act. Consumers make no such distinctions.

That Chairman Wheeler and the Commissioners at the FCC are already rolling up their sleeves for the IP Transition should be applauded. But it’s just one of many issues the Commission needs to dive into in the next 12 months.

Aways Be Mobile

By Brad

With this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (also known as CES) now in the rearview mirror, Dan Rowinski of Read Write Web explores a major takeaway from this year’s show:

The first phase of mobile was about turning our cellphones into what are essentially powerful pockets PCs. This posed unique challenges because of the size of the device and data connectivity issues. Over the past seven years (dating from the launch of the first iPhone), engineers worked to make everything smaller and faster while software developers created apps and systems to turn a cellphone into an “everything” device. The second phase will be to take that concept of everything and spread it everywhere. The connected home, the smart car, the television and commerce are all being informed by the advances that have been made in mobile.

“We are in the middle of the inflection point from developing the technology to deploying it,” said CEO of Ericsson Hans Vestberg when describing what he called the second phase of mobile at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

With mobility increasingly dominating our lives, Rowinski’s takeaway from CES dovetails nicely with two major policy topics at this year’s show: spectrum allocation and the transition to all-IP networks, both of which will be critical for the always-connected future on display at CES to work.

Monday, January 06

Kicking Off Trials

By Brad

Over the weekend, Brian Fung of the Washington Post had a good breakdown of the IP-transition test trials the FCC and AT&T are kicking off:

As the country upgrades its old, copper telephone lines to newer technology, the companies that operate those networks face a lot of unforeseen obstacles. The process is supposed to be complete by the later part of the decade and could enable new features in telephony such as HD voice calls and improved 911 service.

Trials present an opportunity to identify issues that can’t be predicted but will need to be addressed before the nationwide move to next-generation networks.

Tuesday, December 10

CLECs Marching Back to the Future

By Bruce Mehlman

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Last week I highlighted the “rear-view” mirror perspective of certain competitive local exchange carriers (“CLECs”) regarding the IP Transition. This week, the CLECs have taken their strategy to preserve antiquated telephone networks and technology by extending the status quo one step further.   

In 2011, FCC Chairman Wheeler headed the FCC’s Technology Advisory Council that recommended the upgrade and modernization of the nation’s telephone networks to make them high-speed broadband capable by 2018… a bold and visionary goal. Network operators responded to the challenge by committing to build out a new broadband network by 2020.

To bring this “Fourth Network Revolution” to life, however, plans, tests, and addressing operational issues must begin ASAP…now. 

The FCC has before it one of the first IP Transition implementation issues to arise. It is whether to approve AT&T’s request to allow its wholesale business customers to keep their current contracts, while it stops offering long-term contracts—greater than 36 months—for old telephone-based services. Such a reasonable step would help accelerate the transition to new IP network-based technologies that Wheeler’s TAC envisioned.

AT&T’s request should have gone into effect December 10.  Yet the CLECs, who never fail to miss an opportunity to embrace the rapid deployment of 21st century broadband services, are once again the main roadblock. The CLECs have figured out that if you successfully force incumbents to continue to offer antiquated telephone services via long-term contracts, it will essentially mean that carriers such as Verizon and AT&T will be forced to continue operating, maintaining and investing in the old copper telephone networks, rather than devoting all efforts to the IP Transition.

CLEC opposition now means that AT&T’s request is being delayed by the FCC.

This is the latest example of CLECs seeking government intervention in order to slow the IP Transition.  Pure rent-seeking, so that they can continue to use old, 20th-century TDM and copper-based networks rather than focus their efforts on investment and deployment of their own next-generation networks.

So I guess the CLECs’ executives really meant what they said at the New America Foundation last week when they spoke of wanting to use the decades-old network for “decades” more.  That’s a far cry from the TAC’s goal of 2018 or AT&T’s efforts to modernize its entire network by 2020.  All very convenient for them, but let’s call this what it is: narrow, self-interested advocacy in favor of an old business model rather advancing the national goal of a prompt IP Transition.

Last week, the participants at the NAF panel said they had “written the book” on the IP Transition. This week, it seems more they’re like writing a book on delay.

Monday, December 09

The Role of the FCC

By Brad

Recently, the FCC made waves when it announced it was easing restrictions on the use of electronics onboard flights. Over at the Commission’s blog, two members of the FCC explain what they’re after:

Today, technology has evolved to allow the provision of mobile wireless service onboard aircraft without causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks. This has been done internationally for years, and we are confident it can be done here at home – we will develop a full technical record on the proposal to make sure that’s the case. 

To be absolutely clear, the FCC is not proposing to mandate that cell phone use be permitted aboard aircraft. Many are concerned that adoption of this proposal will result in a less-enjoyable travel experience caused by other passengers engaging in unreasonably loud phone conversations during flight. As frequent flyers ourselves, we understand and empathize with these concerns, but it is important to keep in mind that it is not within the FCC’s jurisdiction to set rules governing concerns about passenger behavior aboard aircraft. That role is properly left to the FAA and the airlines after consultation with their customers.

Sounds reasonable, as does this line from the same blog post:

The FCC’s proposal reflects its obligation to review and eliminate or modify rules that are no longer justified. As the expert agency charged with overseeing technology policy and interference issues, we believe it is appropriate for the Commission to consider this matter fully.

Here’s hoping the FCC continues to “review and eliminate or modify rules that are no longer justified” as network providers fully upgrade to all-Internet networks.

Friday, November 22

From Plain Old Phones to Broadband: A Policy Prescription for the FCC

By Rick Boucher

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Bloomberg Government

November 21, 2013 10:13PM ET | Bloomberg BNA

American innovation has led to massive adoption of cutting-edge communications and entertainment technologies. Functionalities and services once wondrous and new are now commonplace. A step back reveals how far and how fast we’ve come. In 2000, television changed forever as TiVO introduced us to time shifting, the ability for consumers to record and watch TV programs at the scheduled hour of their choosing. That same year, our Internet and telephone experience was enhanced as cable modems began to take hold in American homes. The following year, we saw the first iPod, and how we buy, store, and listen to music has never been the same. The iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) gave birth to a revolution in the use of mobile data.

Unseen but ever-present wired and wireless broadband networks provide the foundation for the high-quality video, voice and Internet services that Americans have welcomed with historic enthusiasm, as they have been adopted by in the home and mobile users at a stunning pace.

During the past decade, under our feet and above our heads, the nation’s broadband service providers have invested tens of billions of dollars to bring high-speed wired and wireless connections to our homes and businesses and in the process have reshaped almost everything about how we communicate. Because of these investments, we constantly have available a seamless stream of voice, data, and video on demand.

Today’s digital networks offer boundless opportunity—boosting economic growth and job creation; through remote monitoring and telemedicine, bringing world-class medical care to remote communities and easing the burden of chronic conditions; improving education for students of all ages by delivering advanced coursework, college classes, and even online degrees through distance-learning programs; maintaining constant communications with business associates, family and friends; and providing entertainment and real-time news, weather, and sports information.

This enhanced connectivity also enables civic empowerment—especially for groups who haven’t always been heard—enabling them to communicate more easily with elected officials and to organize and advocate on their own behalf.

Achieving the next level of broadband investment and enabling faster connections, more capable services and deeper Internet penetration in hard-to-serve areas will be facilitated by policy changes by the FCC. With the commission’s newly arrived leadership, these needed changes should be at the forefront of the agency’s agenda.

While communications of all kinds have rapidly moved to the Internet and broadband networks, the aging copper-wire, circuit-switched telephone network remains in place, using the same technology Alexander Graham Bell pioneered. It offers plain old telephone service (POTS), and Americans are fleeing it in droves at an ever-accelerating pace. Only 5 percent of Americans use the old network as their exclusive communications medium. Another 38 percent use it in combination with wireless service, and most Americans use wireless communications only or rely on a combination of wireless and a wired alternative to the telephone network, such as cable modem service.

We stand at an inflection point where the rules that were sensible in the last century for a heavily regulated circuit-switched telephone monopoly are no longer sensible in today’s competitive communications landscape dominated by broadband and a multiplicity of Internet-enabled services. The requirement of current law that telephone companies spend billions annually maintaining a single-function, aging network that consumers no longer prefer is impeding the next level of broadband investment. Planning and delivering a rapid transition to an all-broadband communications environment is the greatest challenge that the new FCC chairman faces.

A Change Requiring New Policy

In its time, the phone network was a culture-changing technical marvel that introduced nationwide communication through copper wire, erasing geography and reliably enabling Americans to dial business contacts, friends, family, and neighbors anytime, anywhere.

During the early and mid-20th century, access to telephones grew rapidly as government aided and promoted a monopoly to accelerate network build-out to reach all Americans. As telephone service became nearly ubiquitous in the latter half of the last century, technological and market advancements created the possibility for alternative satellite, wireless, and landline communications for businesses and consumers.

Realizing the potential benefits that the array of digital technologies could provide, the U.S. government ended the phone monopoly, and with passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, began to chart a course toward more robust competition and entrepreneurship in the nation’s communications marketplace. Consumers were first offered choice in the long distance telephone market. Then new providers, such as cable companies, built out broadband networks to offer competitive wired residential telephone and Internet services. The door was opened for telephone companies to offer cable TV service, and digital networks were developed that could accommodate it.

As the reliability of wireless communications increased and access to broadband services has expanded, American consumers at work and in the home have embraced them with a passion. Modern broadband communications systems now link us to the Internet; move information, data and video at lightning speed; and carry our voice “phone” calls, too. These are the networks consumers prefer, and the transition away from the antiquated telephone network is occurring with remarkable speed. As society now treasures its smartphones and tablet devices, streaming videos, GPS guidance systems, and other electronic wonders, we forget that little more than a decade ago personal communications was still largely about POTS. Current law still assumes that most communications are delivered by the POTS network.

Existing regulations were created in a world where heavily regulated phone companies provided copper wire voice service, lightly-regulated cable companies delivered TV, and wireless companies offered services deemed too unreliable to compete with wired telephone service. In fact, these rules still compel telephone companies to invest nearly $13.5 billion each year to maintain and run the old copper phone system as if it were still the nation’s core communications system used by almost all.

Too Much Investment to Maintain Old Technology

As the number of telephone company subscribers on POTS sharply falls, the per-subscriber cost of maintaining the old network has become unsustainable. According to a recent study, America’s telephone companies made more than $154 billion in capital expenditures from 2006 to 2011. Surprisingly, the majority of that investment was dedicated to maintaining the declining telephone network, even though today only about one-third of Americans still use it at all, and only 5 percent use it exclusively. Every dollar that is spent maintaining a voice-only network that consumers are fleeing is a dollar not invested in the modern multifunction broadband networks that consumers prefer. Every dollar telephone companies spend on an ancient, declining, and little used technology is a dollar not spent developing the more capable broadband infrastructures through which phone companies can become stronger competitors in the offering of voice, video, and data with largely unregulated cable companies. That’s an important goal because when competition is fair and fierce, consumers ultimately win big with competitive pricing and greater choices to fit their personal needs.

Ancient rules and old ways of thinking are undermining innovation, damaging competition, forcing billions of dollars into misdirected capital investment, and slowing our national progress. Maintaining the status quo for the antiquated telephone network—either by decision or inaction—is a costly anachronism. Requiring phone companies to operate voice-only telephone networks while they are building out new fiber-optic broadband networks makes as much sense as requiring a hitching post in front of every store, forcing bus companies to maintain streetcar tracks, or insisting on backup electric fans in every air-conditioned building.

The IP Transition: Six Principles to Consider

The FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan is instructive. It observes that the regulations requiring telephone companies to maintain the old phone network “siphon[s] investments from new networks and services” and is “not sustainable.” The report also declares that the transition to “broadband is the greatest infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.” The FCC’s Technological Advisory Council recommended that the transition and sunset of the POTS network be completed by 2018.

That’s not very far away, and meeting that schedule will bring its own unique challenges. Consumers must be protected, and certain populations are at risk of being disadvantaged. Of particular concern are those who are not yet taking advantage of the opportunities created by new digital technologies. For example, late adopters—largely older and less affluent consumers, many of whom reside in hard-to-serve rural areas, who have not yet joined the broadband era—may be at greater risk unless we complete the transition in a carefully planned and orderly way. The transition to 21st century communications networks must serve every American. But that result is not pre-ordained; it will require hard work.

Government must play a key role throughout this process by advancing consumer interests with a transition plan guided by core principles. These basic protections will remain government’s responsibility even after the old phone system is shut down:

1. The commitment to universal service must endure. Next-generation high-speed broadband networks and their benefits must be available to every American. As we move beyond the old phone network, we cannot leave anybody behind. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their public service obligations, we must push the envelope to ensure that every American can access modern broadband service and enjoy the benefits that come with it. At a minimum, post transition everybody should enjoy service at least as good as they can now receive from copper-wire phone networks.

2. Public safety must be assured. 911 emergency calls must go through—every single time—no matter what technology or services consumers adopt.

3. Services for the hearing-impaired and those with vision problems also must be retained at levels that at least match what consumers enjoy today.

4. Consumer protection must remain at the heart of communications policy. Consumers must know that government has their back; that service providers will deliver on their promises; that spotty service, fraud, or other abuses will not be tolerated. Consumers must have a place to take complaints with confidence that something will be done about them.

5. Establishing a backup plan for power failures should be part of the transition process. The rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy exposed some potential weaknesses in the way our digital technology works today. While fiber-optic-based systems tolerate water damage that can short out copper wires, they are more vulnerable when the electricity at the user’s premises goes out.

6. Special retrofitting and other creative solutions may be required to ensure that modern networks function fully with personal and business equipment such as fax machines, security systems, health monitors, and credit card readers, even though they may not currently be compatible with today’s broadband connections.

FCC Should Begin Trials Now

Consumer interests are paramount. These core challenges must be met before the book is closed on the antiquated POTS network. Contrary to the claims of some, the post-transition environment will not be regulation free. Indeed, regulation will be necessary to assure consumer protection, but just as networks are modernizing, the regulatory landscape must be modernized as well.

What’s needed is smart regulation appropriate to protect consumers and public safety, promote competition and support universal service, while also encouraging sustained private investment and innovation in America’s next-generation communications networks.

The upgrade and modernization effort will require thought and planning. That’s why we must start now while the existing phone system is available as a “safety net” backup for any potential glitch or surprise that might arise during the upgrade to a new and modern system. No one is proposing a “flash cut” in which the telephone network disappears overnight. This process will, in fact, probably take half a decade to complete.

To take the first step, the FCC should rely on a time-tested method: demonstration projects. Conducting demonstration trials in carefully selected markets in which existing POTS users are rapidly moved to Internet protocol-based networks will provide a controlled environment for an accelerated transition with the existing telephone network still in place as a safety net.

This approach gives consumers an assurance that if any unexpected problems causing consumer disruptions arise, service can continue over the telephone network while technical and service issues are resolved. Through the demonstration projects, we can determine what is likely to go wrong and have solutions in place prior to a broader national transition.

The FCC has a recent successful precedent for taking precisely this step. In the nation’s transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, the FCC conducted a similar test. Leading up to the digital TV conversion, some warned of potential negative consequences for consumers. The warnings were similar to those we are hearing about the transition from POTS to modern networks. In particular, the articulated fear was that switching to digital television broadcasts would harm consumers, particularly the elderly and less technically savvy viewers who decide to keep their older analog television sets but would experience difficulty installing the required converter box to receive and convert the new digital broadcasts. The circumstance of rural and lower income viewers was a particular focus. To address these concerns, the FCC launched a demonstration project in Wilmington, N.C., an area with a wide diversity of viewers, including those with low incomes, the elderly, and viewers living in both metropolitan and rural areas.

The FCC’s Wilmington demonstration project proved a success. It provided clear evidence that on the day analog broadcasts ended, viewers were prepared. There were almost no complaints. Analog television users across the Wilmington region had successfully installed digital-to- analog converter boxes. The trial inspired confidence that the national transition could proceed uneventfully, and on national transition day, very few problems were encountered.

Employing the same model, the FCC should now move quickly to authorize closely supervised demonstration projects in selected markets, perhaps one urban and one rural, where people quickly shift from existing telephone networks to modern broadband networks. The demonstration projects offer a test bed to guarantee that core consumer values will be protected, to learn what may go wrong in a controlled rapid transition and to devise solutions for problems that in fact arise prior to a broader national transition.

While the attraction of broadband networks has propelled a POTS-to-broadband transition that is now well advanced, we owe it to ourselves to plan and complete it on the schedule that the FCC’s Advisory Council recommended. Applying the knowledge gained through demonstration projects we can accelerate the POTS phase-out and realize the benefits of greater network functionality, a broader array of services for consumers and the economic efficiencies that come from devoting investment to the networks of the future rather than the network of the past.

Public-Private Partnership Needed for New Road Map

For the moment we have the luxury of time to conduct demonstration projects, but an additional sense of urgency for action is now apparent. The current telephone network is supported by antiquated equipment, and as consumers have continued their ongoing migration to the new networks, equipment providers either no longer manufacture or have significantly scaled back production of the TDM (time-division multiplexing)-based equipment necessary to maintain and operate the POTS network. As fewer replacement parts become available, maintaining the phone network grows dramatically more expensive, further skewing the ratio between investment in old and new technologies, with the ever-escalating costs being passed on to consumers. All Americans stand to benefit from shifting investment to modern networks that offer consumers service as least as good as what they enjoy today, as well as the greater functionality that broadband networks can offer.

A public-private partnership among all stakeholders—consumers, telecom companies, suppliers, and regulators—will be needed to establish the rules of the road for the new network. These stakeholders can embrace key principles—recently outlined by the leading consumer advocacy organization Public Knowledge—service for all, competition, reliability, consumer protection, and public safety.

Simply providing access to new technology while protecting core consumer values, however, isn’t the whole job. We also must boost adoption rates, educating every American about what the transition means, how it will affect them and how by using broadband they can improve opportunities for themselves and their families. We can’t afford to leave any American in the dark about the value of broadband; we can’t leave anyone behind.

So the real questions surrounding the IP transition are not whether, but when; not if, but how. Bipartisan support exists in Congress for the transition itself and for the basic principles that should be at its core, including consumer protection, universal service, network reliability, competition and public safety. Now is the time for all stakeholders to work together, starting with the demonstration projects, to ensure that the transition’s rapid final phase proceeds as smoothly as possible.

New FCC Chairman Embraces Need for Quick Action

The Internet’s evolution has brought us to another critical juncture in communications policy as we consider how to complete the transition from the bygone era of plain old telephone service to the broadband future of the 21st century. It’s a critical transition, given broadband’s increasingly dominant role in every part of our economy, as well as its ability to improve lives and advance economic growth. It’s also something that just about every stakeholder, including the FCC, regards as inevitable.

In 2011, the Technological Advisory Council led by now-FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, noted that “[t]he FCC should take steps to prepare for the inevitable transition” from the old network and in fact “take steps to expedite the transition, with a target date of 2018,” including the need to “re-align regulatory requirements to emerging technologies.”

The recommendation reflected vision and foresight then, and provides an ambitious but achievable agenda now. When it’s achieved, Americans will have access to reliable networks designed specifically for broadband voice, video, and Internet services, rather than antiquated networks that support phones wired to the wall. Every app, every smartphone and tablet, every desktop computer will smoothly connect consumers to the online experience of their choice—telemedicine services for better health, virtual classrooms for lifetime learning, their legislators’ offices for civic engagement, a job opportunity, a business contact, a sporting event, a movie, friends and family across town or on the other side of the world. That’s the goal—delivering the services consumers want. Upgrading and modernizing our 20th century telephone networks will get us there.

This goal now appears closer on the horizon than ever before. In one of his first official acts, Chairman Wheeler has made clear the need to speed the “Fourth Network Revolution,” recognizing how “new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity.” He stated that “the time to act starts now” and proposed a timetable for FCC action in January 2014 on how to “begin a diverse set of experiments that will allow the commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of the [IP transition and proposed demonstration projects].” In setting this course, the new chairman has jump-started the process and appears ready to steer the FCC toward addressing the key policy, technical, and consumer issues necessary to bring 21st century high-speed broadband to more Americans.

In our land of opportunity and innovation, we’re a place of relentless creativity. At the core of our success is an entrepreneurial culture powered by private sector investment. In that American tradition, it’s incumbent on us to ensure that the benefits and opportunities of next-generation networks and services become widespread and available to all. The POTS-to-broadband transition will free the needed investment. The next steps for us to take are now clear.

Reproduced with Permission from The Telecommunications Law Resource Center, Copyright 2013, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) www.bna.com.

Wednesday, November 13

Save the Date!

By Brad

Next Tuesday, IIA is teaming up with RocketSpace for a discussion on the future of communication in America. We’re calling it “Next-Gen Networks: Impact on Innovation, Education, Regulation & Economy,” and it will feature some rather heavy hitters in the tech and policy space. How heavy? Well, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for one, Bill Coughran of Sequoia Capital for two, and Vivek Wadhwa, Vice President of Research and Innovation at Singularity University for three.

Our own Jamal Simmons will be moderating.

It all happens Tuesday, November 19 from 12-1:30 pm at RocketSpace, which is located at 344 Pine Street in San Francisco. If you’re the area and want to attend, you can RSVP here.

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