During its monthly open meeting, the five-member FCC commission today unanimously voted to approve rules the agency said would allow operators to more quickly and easily transition from legacy network technology known as time-division multiplexing or TDM to IP-based services.
"Today's action will eliminate outdated, unnecessary regulations and establish clear criteria that can expedite the review process required when providers update service from legacy to modern voice technologies," the FCC said in a release. "The new framework will give carriers the clarity they need to transition quickly to innovative services and at the same time ensure continued protections for consumers, competition, public safety and universal service, all important values that must endure even as technology changes."
"We're updating our rules to reflect changes in the market … to move to faster, better networks," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said following the agency's vote on the topic.
Under the FCC's new rules, a company's application to discontinue legacy TDM-based voice service can be automatically granted in 30 days "if the applicant meets a clear, objective, three-pronged test," the agency said. That test includes comparable network performance, access to 911 service, and compatibility with "popular" services like home security systems, medical monitoring devices, credit card readers and fax machines, "subject to sunset in 2025."
Public-interest group Public Knowledge cheered the vote. "Today's FCC Order does more than protect the tens of millions of businesses and local governments, the thousands of public safety systems and the more than 50 million Americans still using the legacy copper phone network. Today's action ensures that as telephone companies spend billions of dollars to upgrade our national communications network, it will genuinely be an upgrade for all Americans, not an upgrade for some and a downgrade for others," Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "By creating a process for the orderly phase out of the old voice system, the FCC has also provided a tool for ensuring that no one is left behind in the broadband revolution."
Trade group USTelecom also voiced support for the FCC's action. "USTelecom is pleased the FCC has unanimously approved our petition to change the regulatory treatment of traditional phone service providers so they are no longer considered 'dominant' providers of voice service, a logical step given that over 80 percent of U.S. households use alternatives to that service," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick in a statement. "We welcome the commission's recognition that the voice market has changed, and the regulatory relief granted today will allow the industry some additional flexibility to better compete and innovate, a step that will benefit consumers and competition. Similarly, we hope that the commission's order establishing a streamlined path to substitute new Internet-based services for aging ones will help create more modern, innovative communications networks and services."
During its meeting, the FCC also approved rules aimed at releasing more high-band spectrum to wireless users.
The FCC's vote to streamline TDM-to-IP transitions will affect operators like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) as they retire their copper networks. Indeed, AT&T just last month asked the FCC for permission to discontinue its BellSouth Analog Voice Grade Private Line services in Carbon Hill, Alabama, and in Kings Point, a suburban wire center in Palm Beach County, Florida -- two markets where the telco has been conducting TDM-to-IP transition tests.
AT&T is hardly alone. Verizon petitioned the FCC for permission to stop offering postpaid calling card and personal 800 services via its MCI subsidiary, for example.
- see this FCC release
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AT&T to conduct TDM-to-IP transition tests in Alabama, Florida