FCC unveils technology transition task force

The FCC on Monday formed the agency-wide Technology Transitions Policy Task Force to address the issue of service providers moving away from TDM to all-IP networks.

This group will be co-led by Sean Lev, the regulator's general counsel, who will serve as interim director, and Rebekah Goodheart, associate chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, who will serve as deputy director.

"The Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will play a critical role in answering the fundamental policy question for communications in the 21st century: In a broadband world, how can we best ensure that our nation's communications policies continue to drive a virtuous cycle of innovation and investment, promote competition, and protect consumers?" said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a prepared statement about the new task force.

The new task force will coordinate efforts on various issues surrounding IP interconnection, resiliency of 21st century communications networks, business broadband competition and consumer protection with a particular focus on voice services. In addition, the task force will take recommendations from the Technological Advisory Committee on the PSTN Transition, coordinate with the NARUC Presidential Task Force on Federalism and Telecommunications and evaluate the feedback from the Commission's pending field hearings on Superstorm Sandy.

What's interesting about this new task force is it comes at a time when AT&T (NYSE: T), one of the U.S. market's largest telcos, is asking for regulatory relief on its aging TDM-based networks.

During a recent discussion at the Brookings Institution, AT&T, which has asked the FCC for regulatory relief on its TDM-based networks, said the rules that governed the once voice-centric TDM world don't apply to the growing IP-based network deployments.

Last month, AT&T pledged $14 billion to upgrade its wireline and wireless networks to all-IP in both its large markets and in rural markets.  

"We have to be able to start this transition from the old to the new," Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president, said in a Nov. 27 Brookings Institution discussion. "The underlying statutes really aren't designed for the current situation."

One element that the major telcos would like relief from is the Provider of Last Resort (POLR) regulations. Unlike cable operators such as Comcast that provide circuit switched and IP-based voice service, telcos like AT&T and Verizon have to ensure that they can provide traditional POTS service to every residence and meet standards to ensure that phone service remains operational during storms and power outages.

The regulator's efforts, not surprisingly, are drawing different reactions from industry pundits and competitive groups.

Anna-Maria Kovacs, visiting senior policy scholar at Georgetown University's Center for Business and Public Policy, wrote in a FierceTelecom column that the task force could help streamline the TDM-to-IP transition process.

"A coordinated effort by the FCC to examine the issue of network migration from TDM-based networks to IP-based networks should result in a smoother migration to the IP-based broadband networks that consumers and businesses need and that Congress and the Administration consider a national priority," wrote Kovacs.

However, industry groups like COMPTEL say the FCC needs to ensure that any changes won't affect competitive providers such as tw telecom (Nasdaq: TWTC) from getting access to the telco's last mile facilities to deliver business services.

"COMPTEL believes that the top priority for the Task Force should be to preserve and promote competition by ensuring that competitive carriers continue to have access to last mile facilities and interconnection on just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions as required by the Communications Act, so that consumers and businesses of all sizes continue to have a choice of services and service providers," said Jerry James, CEO of COMPTEL, in a statement about the new Task Force. "Access to copper, wireless and fiber network technologies should be available on a wholesale basis to enable competitive choice for end users and support the administration's goals of expanding broadband across the country."

For more:
- see the release
- Bloomberg has this article

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Industry Voices: Rational broadband investment: Why the FCC's new task force is a good step forward

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