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Windstream CEO: Protect Interconnection

Carol Wilson

LAS VEGAS -- COMPTEL Plus Spring 2014 -- The regulatory transition to an all-IP network in the US could have a negative impact on competition for business services if not carefully handled by the FCC, Windstream CEO Jeff Gardner said in a keynote address Monday.

While being careful to laud current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler for the breadth of his telecom industry knowledge, Windstream Communications Inc. (NYSE: WIN)'s Gardner said the general debate about the IP transition too often focuses on the impact on consumer services, to the potential detriment of business service competition. For businesses to continue to have the choices they have today of multiple service providers, the current wholesale service infrastructure must be preserved in the all-IP era.

Notably, that means protecting interconnection of incumbent networks with those of potential competitors and preventing the decommissioning of copper networks, Gardner noted in an interview with Light Reading following the keynote.

Maintaining the best competitive business environment is critical to Windstream, which is determined to become "the premier enterprise business provider" in the US, Gardner told the Comptel crowd. Having invested billions in its network and in acquisitions such as national CLEC Paetec and cloud provider Hosted Solutions, Windstream is now trying to carve a unique position in the business space. (See Windstream Taps Infinera for National Buildout and Windstream's Plan for Paetec.)

This means creating deep partnerships with business customers that build on a set of standard products and add customized pieces, enabling Windstream to be a more valued partner that isn't easily replaced, Gardner says. In its cloud and managed services business, Windstream targets customers in its local and regional footprints but then works to expand its service to those customers where they have facilities outside its current footprint.

For example, Gardner says the network operator's fastest-growing region is actually the western part of the country, where it lacks the same depth of fiber facilities it has in the east but where it supplements the limited fiber it does have with wholesale deals for last-mile access and more.

Such a strategy depends on the often complex interconnection of networks, using wholesale and retail partners to reach endpoints Windstream doesn't itself serve, which brings Gardner back to why it's critical that the FCC protect the current wholesale services infrastructure.

He and Eric Einhorn, senior VP of government affairs and strategy for Windstream, point to recent actions such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s now-withdrawn effort in late 2013 to file tariff changes that would eliminate long-term contract discounts for its wholesale customers as an indication of potential changes that could threaten the competitive landscape.

In general, Einhorn adds, there can be confusion over key issues, even among members of Congress. For example, it's common to confuse the move to an all-IP network with the elimination of copper in the public network, two things that are quite separate technology trends.

"We have to get this right, and pay attention to the details," Gardner says. "We can't just assume this stuff goes forward and everything works out."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
3/19/2014 | 12:22:08 PM
Re: Important topic....
I'm not confusing them, I'm affirming them.  "Interconnect" is used in a lot of my current standards and carrier activities to reference the general process of connecting networks/services; "federation" is also being used.  My point is that as you evolve to IP and "Internet dialtone" you're evolving to an architecture where making a simple NNI path or peering isn't enough.  That's why we have standards work to explore the new situations.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/19/2014 | 12:18:37 PM
Re: Important topic....
Two things:

Do we really mean an all Ethernet not an all IP world?

Why does keeping copper in the ground have anything to do with an IP migration (or Ethernet Migration if that is what we mean)?



User Rank: Lightning
3/19/2014 | 11:52:55 AM
Re: Important topic....
Tom, technical and regulatory issues impact each other but can also be dealt with separately.  Don't confuse the PSTN with the Internet, even after the former uses more IP than it does now.  Interconnection refers to the obligation to pass traffic between networks with certain quality standards at regulated prices.  This is different from peering, wherein passing traffic is voluntary, rates are based on who's bigger collecting from who's smaller, and there are no QoS standards (nor are they really practical given IP's lameness).

IP is not really a protocol. It's a multiplexing header. It has no elements of procedure. In the PSTN context, other layers guarantee the CBR integrity, which the Internet can't deliver.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/18/2014 | 6:24:45 PM
Re: Important topic....
It's a general trend in technology for policy makers and the public to focus on consumer issues and downplay business-to-business. Both are important. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/18/2014 | 10:18:28 AM
Re: Important topic....
When you move to all-IP you're kind of moving out of "Interconnect" in the old-line sense to "federation" in the SDN and NFV sense, and there's some major technical shifts there that will have to be addressed in addition to regulatory nuances.
User Rank: Blogger
3/18/2014 | 9:22:23 AM
Important topic....
Important topic very well articulated... it's this kind of day-to-day impact that needs to be heard as the industry moves to new operational and business models.
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