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FCC begins voluntary TDM-to-IP transition experiments, measuring consumer impact

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The FCC is getting ready to conduct IP service transition tests, a move that was lauded by U.S. incumbent telco AT&T (NYSE: T), which says that current regulations don't apply to the emerging IP-based wireline network environment. 

The new order considers a broad set of voluntary experiments to test what impact the migration from TDM to IP-based technology will have on various sets of end-users.      

"Driven by developments in the marketplace, technology transitions in communications networks are already well underway," the FCC said in its order. "They include, for example, the transition from plain old telephone service delivered over copper lines to feature-rich voice service using Internet Protocols, delivered over coaxial cable, fiber, or wireless networks."

Through these experiments, the FCC said it will gather information in three broad areas: service-based experiments; targeted experiments and cooperative research; and data improvement.

Incumbent telcos such as AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) still have to abide by the Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) rule from 1913 that says that every American household should have access to a phone line.

However, both telcos have continued to see their traditional POTS revenues and overall subscriber bases decline as customers replace their landline phones with wireless or a VoIP line. AT&T's consumer POTS access lines declined from 15.7 million to 12.4 million lines between 2012 and 2013. Likewise, Verizon reported that voice lines declined to 11.3 million in Q4 2013.

In a blog post, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president-External and Legislative Affairs, praised the FCC's move.

"Beginning the process for achieving this transformation is overdue, and all of us should recognize the sense of urgency Chairman Wheeler and his team have brought to this issue," wrote Cicconi. "They quickly recognized and credited the leadership shown many months earlier by Commissioners Rosenworcel, Pai, and Clyburn, as well as the clear public support of Commissioner O'Rielly, to build a unanimous vote for moving forward. This is visionary both for its break with the past, its recognition of the future, and its unanimity in a time of partisan strife."

Following a call last year by former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to conduct trials, Wheeler cited the TDM-to-IP migration as one of his initial priorities when he became the regulator's chairman in November. Calling it the Fourth Network Revolution, he proposed the regulator put out an order addressing the matter at its upcoming meeting in January.

Wheeler's quick call to action got the attention of AT&T, which has set 2020 as the year when it wants to transition off legacy TDM to all IP networks. It has asked the regulator for permission to conduct IP trials in two of its 4,500 wiring centers and had expressed frustration over what it called the regulator's lack of action.

Proposals from AT&T and other interested parties are due by Feb. 20 and will be followed by a public comment and reply period ending on March 31. The FCC will make the final decision on the proposals at its meeting in May. 

For more:
- see the FCC's release
- and AT&T's blog post

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