IP technology transition trials proposed by FCC met with mixed response

The FCC wants to conduct trials related to the telecom industry's transition to all-IP networks, a proposal that is getting a mixed response from traditional telcos and industry groups.

The regulatory commission issued a public notice on Friday proposing the trials and seeking comments.

The trials will look at the impact of IP transition areas like next-generation 911, transitioning consumers from wireline to wireless services, and interconnection of VoIP traffic that's provided by incumbents and competitive providers. In addition, the regulator said that it is asking parties that want open-ended trials focused on making a general switch to all-IP technology in a geographic area to submit details on how those trials would work.

AT&T (NYSE: T), which submitted its own proposal last November chronicling the transition from the TDM-based PSTN to IP, said the FCC's latest notice falls short of the regulator's proposed broadband goals.

"Today's public notice is a step forward, though we are disappointed the FCC still appears tentative about dealing with the IP transition, especially when compared with the bold and visionary goals of the National Broadband Plan," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior EVP for external and legislative affairs. "Certainly, this notice might yield some interesting information, and we will of course cooperate fully with the FCC."

Cicconi added that while the telco will provide necessary geographic details that the regulator is asking for, they "believe that further delays by the FCC in moving to such trials, which they themselves would control, creates more investment uncertainty." 

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) filed a request with the state of New York to replace its copper networks on New York's Fire Island that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy with an all-wireless service called VoiceLink. This proposal has drawn fire from both local residents and the CWA and IBEW unions that represent the telco's wireline employees. It has a similar plan for its copper network Mantoloking, N.J.

Despite the urgency to transition the PSTN to all-IP, other industry groups caution that it needs to be done in a way that won't disrupt services for consumers and businesses.  

"While everyone wants to upgrade our phone system for the 21st century, we need to remember that people depend on the phone system for everything from calling 911 to calling home this Sunday for Mother's Day," said Harold Feld, SVP of Public Knowledge, in a statement. "The FCC properly recognizes in the Public Notice that while any pilot program will be voluntary for the phone company, it will not be voluntary for their subscribers--or with other phone providers in the network--whose ability to complete calls may be compromised by sudden and unexpected changes in a system on which we have all long relied."

For more:
- see the FCC's public notice

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