Wheeler: Bring on IP Transition

Although Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job at the Federal Communications Commission for less than a month, he's ready to take on one of the most complex issues facing the regulatory agency today: the impact of a transition to IP on telecommunications services.

In a blog post, Wheeler declared that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will present a status update at the agency's December 12 meeting on what its Technology Transitions Policy Task Force has learned from a request for comment on proposed IP-transition trials. The proposed trials aim to explore three specific issues: the exchange of voice traffic in IP format, 911 emergency calling services, and the use of wireless-only connections for voice and broadband services.

Wheeler also said that he expects the update to be followed by "consideration of an order for immediate action" in January. That order should include recommendations for how to begin testing the impact of an IP transition on consumers and businesses, how to solicit feedback from the public on said tests, how to collect relevant supplementary data during trials, and how to consider the legal, policy, and technical issues that cannot be explored in an experimental setting.

For US cable companies, the issue of voice-over-IP interconnections is a particularly contentious one. Incumbent telecom providers -- primarily AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) -- have every reason to preserve the current power structure, even as the national telephone system transitions to an IP-based format. Cable providers, on the other hand, see a major opportunity for business growth. (See: FCC VoIP Ruling Bound to Disappoint Someone.)

In public comments to the FCC so far, the largest MSOs have primarily argued that the proposed IP experiments should proceed. However, cable companies do not want telecom rivals to set the rules for the long-term transition away from existing technologies, nor do they want any experiments to further delay the switchover to IP.

In no uncertain terms, cable companies have also argued in public comments that the FCC should not use the findings from any IP trials as the basis for new regulations on VoIP interconnection agreements. Cable operators would rather keep those traffic-sharing negotiations behind closed doors and subject to commercial forces rather than regulatory ones.

In its comments, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) said: "Comcast’s real-world experience that it has acquired from negotiating and entering into VoIP interconnection agreements amply demonstrates that there are numerous ways to achieve successful voice IP interconnection arrangements… Today, negotiating parties are free to agree on the particular engineering and compensation arrangements that are mutually beneficial to both parties."

Wheeler says the FCC is ready to take on the grand challenge of the IP transition. But the hornet's nest he's about to uncover may soon convince him otherwise.

— Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable

KBode 11/21/2013 | 9:02:23 AM
Competitive Problems Caused by Killing DSL Still Being Overlooked I was happy to see Wheeler's comments, particularly referencing (albeit briefly and vaguely) the potential competyitive impact of AT&T and Verizon backing away from unwanted DSL markets, leaving cable with a stronger monopoly in half of the country.

Still, the rhetorical focus from regulators appears fixed on the more shiny portions of the transition. Wheeler references "expanding fiber networks" even though AT&T and Verizon have largely frozen next-gen deployment. He references the excitement generated by line bonding, even though many customers can't actually get AT&T's latest 45 Mbps line bonded offer (nobody in an MDU can).

I'm probably beating a dead horse at this point, but the fact that tens of millions of people may soon lose DSL and POTS connectivity from this regulatory overhaul being driven largely by AT&T (wireless simply is NOT a fixed line replacement) doesn't seem to be getting serious-enough attention.
brookseven 11/20/2013 | 1:56:37 PM
Re: Cable has power position as well Teamspeak, Ventrillo and other similar software programs provide VoIP connectivity generally from computers to computer VoiP communications with a server intermediary.  The more typical use is in gaming, but essentially you can set up a VoIP server then issue login credentials and have a nice VoIP conference.





I have used these for years, Teamspeak was on the back burner for years as WoW mostly used Ventrilo but is making a comeback.  Theoretically, they could be connected to the public network to make a very low cost VoIP conferencing service.  My friend in the Army used Teamspeak to do low cost conferences in Iraq.



Carol Wilson 11/20/2013 | 11:39:37 AM
Re: Cable has power position as well Who controls the wire is still an issue for everyone who isn't a cable or telecom network operator. The definition of what is a VoIP service is certainly one of the issues that Wheeler's FCC will have to decide. 

What the heck is a Teamspeak server?
brookseven 11/20/2013 | 11:36:42 AM
Re: Cable has power position as well So, does going VoIP at a Tandem switch count as a VoIP service?

The reason I bring this up is I see arguments on other threads about essentially who controls the wire and when the voice is packetized.  

And what if Xbox Live want to interconnect?  How about a Teamspeak server (I had friends in the Army using one so it has rather broad applicability)?


Carol Wilson 11/20/2013 | 11:13:41 AM
Cable has power position as well The cable companies actually wound up defining the competitive VoIP landscape - they came along well after the VoIP pioneers like Vonage and scooped up the residential market with "digital voice' services that were totally VoIP.

It's not surprising they don't want to see the status quo changed - i.e., rules applied to VoIP that were previously reserved for wireline telephony. 

Seeing the FCC ready to move so quickly is a good thing, and it will be interesting to see how Wheeler and company proceed. 
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