VoIP & Phone

FCC Moves to Modernize Phone Network With IP-Based Tech

The Federal Communications Commission this week took steps to move the country’s traditional circuit-based telephone network to an Internet-based system.

At the agency’s January meeting, commissioners will consider an order that outlines how best to make that transition without disrupting the existing telephone network.

“Our communications networks are changing – and fast. What some call the ‘IP transition’ is really a series of transitions; a multi-faceted revolution that advances as the packets of Internet Protocol (IP)-based communication replace the digital stream of bits and analog frequency waves,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post(Opens in a new window).

The switch to IP-based technologies is already occurring in many U.S. households – from customers ditching landlines for cell phones to those using Skype instead of making traditional long-distance phone calls. But making the formal switch – like the digital TV transition in 2009 – requires planning and FCC intervention to make sure customers in under-served areas are not left out in the cold.

The FCC started moving on the issue last year when AT&T and the Rural Broadband Association(Opens in a new window) asked the commission to examine how a switch to an IP-based network would impact its customers. A public comment period(Opens in a new window) brought in more than 400 comments from private and public entities, and the commission will now move on their suggestions.

“We have listened, and now it is the time to act,” Wheeler wrote.

The January order, Wheeler said, must include recommendations on how to begin “a diverse set of experiments that will allow the Commission and the public to observe the impact on consumers and businesses of such transitions.” There must also be a way to collect that data and a process for developing “a game plan for … our IP transition agenda,” Wheeler wrote.

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Those experiments will likely include AT&T’s proposed trials.

“Today’s action is a significant step forward for the industry,” AT&T’s SVP of External and Legislative Affairs, Jim Cicconi, said in his own blog post(Opens in a new window).

“Our current infrastructure has served us well for almost a century but it no longer meets the needs of America’s consumers,” Cicconi continued. “The transition to broadband and IP services that has already begun is driven by consumers who are moving to the Internet and choosing to connect in ways not imagined just a decade ago. Like any change it requires planning. The geographic trials directed by Chairman Wheeler will provide the real world answers needed to ensure a seamless transition.”

In a statement(Opens in a new window), NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield stressed that any plan must consider the impact on rural consumers, some of whom still struggle to get adequate Internet service.

“NTCA’s members have already made great strides in helping to ensure rural consumers can participate meaningfully in an IP-evolved world, but more remains to be done,” she said.

The FCC will discuss the issue more at its Dec. 12 open meeting, with an eye on approving an order the following month.