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