The FCC Will Tackle Old-School Communication Network Policies With A Brand New Task Force

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The FCC has today announced a new Task Force to deal with the difficult task of creating policy for a next-generation communications network based on an IP infrastructure, as opposed to the copper-line POTS (plain old telephone service) network which has been in place since the late 19th century.

The Task Force is part of the National Broadband Plan, passed in 2010, which aims to help the country transition to next-generation services as POTS becomes less and less relevant. The Task Force will coordinate efforts on IP interconnection and the reliability and resiliency of the next-gen networks, “with a particular focus on voice services.”

Here’s the official wording:

The Task Force will conduct a data-driven review and provide recommendations to modernize the Commission’s policies in a process that encourages the technological transition, empowers and protects consumers, promotes competition, and ensures network resiliency and reliability.

This announcement comes fresh on the heels of AT&T’s plan to invest $14 billion in their wireless and wireline networks, released alongside the filing of of a petition with the FCC asking for the sunsetting of POTS service permanently. Essentially, AT&T’s filing asks for the preparation of policy change as it upgrades its network to IP-based service. It’s also asking to be referred to as an information service, much like Cable companies, as opposed to categorizing AT&T’s service as a PSTN (public switched telephone network) which subjects the carrier to extra regulation like Carrier Of Last Resort obligations.

I spoke with Hank Hultquist, Federal Regulatory Vice President at AT&T, who explained that “PSTN (public switched telephone network) and POTS were a uniform homogenous network that was the same in every place.” In other words, everybody had a wire that connected them to AT&T’s specific service. Now, however, “some locations will have fiber to the home, some will have copper and cable, some just copper and some just cable. Some will just have wireless.”

I asked if this was in the public benefit. Are different versions of communication service, all of which are less reliable than POTS mind you, fair to all customers? Is it right to give customers in certain locations benefits that other customers might not have based on where they live?

“There won’t be standard service,” said Hultquist. “I would think o fit as some people have certain services available and some have others. I think that’s the way business works. We’ll provide services where there’s opportunity to invest capital in a way you can expect to make a return on it.”

The blue carrier made a public statement on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s announcement of the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, saying the following:

Today’s announcement by the FCC to appoint a Technology Task Force to modernize its rules for the transition of traditionally regulated services to applications that ride on an IP broadband infrastructure is welcome news. As AT&T pointed out in our recent filing, that transition is well underway with more than 70% of consumers having already migrated away from POTS service. Addressing these issues in a comprehensive process that crosses the smoke-stacked bureau structure that is a remnant of an almost eight decades old telecom law is critically important. The Task Force created today by the Commission seems like a logical step towards that comprehensive process. We look forward to working with the FCC and others to ensure we have the right policies in place to promote investment in 21st century communications infrastructure.