The FCC Plays Musical Chairs

The doors at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have been revolving non-stop this year, as the new chairman, Kevin Martin, establishes his office and sets his agenda (see That's Chairman Kev, to You...).

Personnel changes at the FCC are more important than ever as the purveyors of VOIP and other new technologies are in a state of flux. Just last week, what could have been a watershed moment in VOIP regulation was put off as Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT) withdrew a request to shield VOIP carriers from access charges. The carrier cited personnel moves at the commission as its reason for acting as it did (see Level 3 Yanks VOIP Petition).

While some heavy VOIP questions remain unanswered, the FCC's bureau chiefs under the previous chairman, Michael Powell, who resigned January 21, are falling away en masse. And two commissioner seats will soon change, as one vacancy needs to be filled and one commissioner prepares to step down.

Media Bureau chief Kenneth Ferree left March 4, Consumer & Governmental Affairs bureau chief Dane Snowden left March 11, Wireless Bureau chief John Muleta resigned March 14, and Enforcement Bureau chief David Solomon recently announced he’ll depart later this spring.

International Bureau chief Donald Abelson has not officially announced plans to leave the commission, although a well placed source told Light Reading he too has resigned.

The latest chief to step aside is Wireline Bureau chief Jeffrey Carlisle, who turned in his resignation to Martin last Monday and plans to leave April 1. Carlisle was the man who made it clear that the previous iteration of the FCC would not step in to regulate and apply tariffs to a new IP service such as the free peer-to-peer voice service from Skype Technologies SA.

"Their servers are in Estonia. I don't have an enforcement staff in Estonia," he told a group of rural telecom carriers in February (see Rural Carriers Circle the Wagons).

Will that still hold under Martin's regime?

It's hard to tell right now. The new chairman has asked the bureaus to decline from making public statements until he's had a chance to settle in, sources close to the commission say.

And, the FCC is in a partisan deadlock at the moment. Martin’s ascension to the chairmanship left the fifth and tie-breaking commissioner spot vacant. Now four commissioners remain, split along party lines; Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein are the Democrats, and Kathleen Abernathy and Martin are the Republicans.

To add to the drama, Commissioner Abernathy, whose term ended in June 2004, must by law step down by the end of this year’s congressional session.

It all sounds like a mess, but the commission's spokesman says this is business as usual. “This is the third leadership transition I’ve seen, and it is no different than when Chairman Powell took over or when Chairman Kinnard took over,” says the FCC’s media relations director David Fiske.

But did Martin lay down a gag order for the FCC's bureau staff? Fiske says the “gag order” tag is extreme and insists here too that what Martin did was not out of the ordinary. “This talk about there being a gag order on the bureaus has been far overstated,” he says. “There was one guy that made a speech to the Media Institute; that’s all it was.”

Fiske was referring to FCC Chief of Policy Development Robert Pepper, who was scheduled to speak last Thursday at a Media Institute lunch, but unexpectedly sent an email last Monday -- after Martin took office -- saying the lunch had been canceled.

Fiske said that Powell made the same request for an organizational “time out” on public speaking when he came to office; Powell just handled it differently. A central question now is whether the difference in Martin's leadership style is indicative of a change in policy direction.

Gag order or no, Fiske says quizzing the bureau chiefs and FCC staff during a transitional period is a moot point. “And it’s no good for [staff] either; they are put in a position of answering questions that they won’t know the answers to: ‘What are you going to do about media ownership?’ ‘What are you going to do about telecom rules?’ There’s no way they’re going to be able to answer those questions right now.”

So what is happening?

Chairman Martin is now meeting extensively with the bureau chiefs, some of them outgoing, and some of the “acting” chiefs, and other staff. “They need some time to set priorities and set agendas and go over time tables -- there are hundreds of policy decisions to be made at the start of the term,” Fiske says. In the meantime, Martin's FCC will be rather quiet. The next scheduled open meeting of the commission is set for April 28.

“Give [Martin] a little time -- it always takes two weeks or so for someone to get settled in,” Fiske says. “You’ve got to understand what a huge difference there is between being a commissioner and running the commission.”

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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ccbonnet 12/5/2012 | 3:21:34 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs VoIP is in internet so ILECs who provide DSL service have no control over it is misleading. ILECs can introduce a 200 millisec delay with a cheap circular buffer and screw VoIP service providers. If that seems too anti-competitive, ILECs can send all traffic (including web surfing) on this 200millisec delay path and anyone who wants a premier 10milsec delay for a particular IP stream should pay for the premium service to ILEC to differentiate your priority stream to Skype/Vonage and expedite their delivery. Hey... Fedex and even USPS has premium expedited delivery schemes haaa! BTW 200msec delay will hardly have a noticable effect on internet surfing and other non-realtime apps.

And who says such delay is not acceptable or acceptable : A favorable FCC can be convinced by ILECs that due to the heavy traffic and their video services the best effort traffic (read VoIP & web surfing) has to be engineered for a 200milsec delay in order to provide the QoS for their core services.....
In the end FCC (or the 3 of 5 commissioners) make the difference.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:21:33 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs
Have you ever actually run tracert on your PC?

Go ahead and do it sometime and check some addresses....heck check Vonage.

Then come back and tell us if the delays are mostly in the Internet or in the Access.

By the way, every gamer on the planet will notice a 200 millisecond delay and move to cable if one is inserted.

ccbonnet 12/5/2012 | 3:21:29 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs >>Then come back and tell us if the delays are mostly in the Internet or in the Access.
What's your point??

>>By the way, every gamer on the planet will notice a 200 millisecond delay and move to cable if one is inserted.
Who said cable companies are immune from VoIP SPs? They'll have to work just like ILECs if the VoIP erosion hurts it. For gaming both'll have to think up something.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:21:28 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs
My point is you will find Access delays are the least of your worries.

Nobody is implementing this stuff. You know how much work it would be on a DSLAM? (Let's snoop for VoIP packets that are not headed to my destination and insert a big delay). Awful lot of cost and work for something that won't matter.

Because if you did do your homework on a tracert, you would find out that having no QoS on the Public Internet will pretty much kill Public Internet VoIP in the long term. Nice for a free service, but if I have to pay $20/month for it I want it to work - all the time. These services will keep the VoIP from local carriers and cable honest with pricing, but that's about it.

iometro 12/5/2012 | 3:21:28 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs For gaming both'll have to think up something.

Something like Gaming VPN?

I think ccbonnet is right on the money. What better way to universally create a need for latency-free/protected/guaranteed pathways?
ccbonnet 12/5/2012 | 3:21:24 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs iometro, apart from the low-latency/protected/guaranteed pathways a Gaming VPN has to have a special feature - Deliver a 10milsec granularity timestamp to each competitive/time-sensitive payload.....10milsec being among the best observed human reaction time so far.
ccbonnet 12/5/2012 | 3:21:24 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs >>My point is you will find Access delays are the least of your worries. <<

Is'nt that what I was saying! The delay guarantees provided by ATM based DSL access infrastructure is taken advantage of by VoIP SPs to build out their VoIP service....while ILECs are not bound by any commitment to any delay guarantees to their customers.... it just happens that their networks currently provide sub-10milsec guarantee. Once VoIP SPs get enough traffic from a market they'll definitely have a POP (from say Level3 possibly co-located with BRAS)and connect their national backbone of POPs with sub 50milsec MPLS tunnels....because their worry is about delays in the Public Internet.

>>Nobody is implementing this stuff. You know how much work it would be on a DSLAM? <<

How much work would it be on a DSLAM?? What exactly is 'Awful lot'?? I would be interested in the homework you did using tracert/ping or any of those buzzwords to figure out the cost of implemeting a function that is existing through an API from the chipsets.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:21:21 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs
Let's see....DSLAMs - hmmm ATM - no IP - no WRED - no network processors.

Soon to be coming Ethernet DSLAMs with no classification engines.

The products you talk about don't exist at $30/port.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:21:21 AM
re: The FCC Plays Musical Chairs
No, you were saying the ILECs would screw with your voice through the implementation of delays when qualifying packets through the DSL network. This is the access. Access is generally the smallest part of your delay problem. Your problem is in the ISP and Internet Backbone.

To implement the required function would require a new DSLAM that was designed differently than all DSLAMs AND would cost significantly more than what is done today. Additionally, there would need to be the developoment of new OSS systems to provision this functionality. So, say 2 - 3 years from now this could be done in a DSLAM at a 25% price increase per port.

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