The FCC announced last week that they’ll begin testing the transition away from old, legacy-based copper-wired telephone systems to a new digital Internet protocol (IP) system. This new transition, in discussion for some time, will allow telephone companies to propose trials and new plans for an eventual switch to an all IP-based system. The goal will be the eventual switchover from older analog, circuit-switched technology to the newer technology powered by fiber and wireless. This new system would save millions of dollars on infrastructure and get rid of the necessity to keep investing in a outmoded technology, which the telecom companies are currently required to do by law.
This is the good news, but the FCC has moved at a snails pace on the IP transition. It has been a 15-month process just to approve the trials—how much longer before the FCC retires this antiquated form of communication? The FCC should work towards easing the regulations, which slow the rollout of innovative consumer services. There are currently too many rules that were designed to fit the monopoly-era telecommunications companies. With the competition in the modern era, it seems wholly unnecessary.
Keeping old rules in places often makes no sense at all. For example, slamming does not happen with “all distance” services, such as those provided by Vonage, Comcast, Verizon, Skype or any other Internet-based services. Similarly, wireless services are exempt and there are no equal access provisions for wireless services. A distinction between long distance and local calls are meaningless with Internet-based services, and so are the irrational rules that make consumers pay more for shorter toll calling than they would for long distance calling. If regulations are needed, the FCC should start anew with evidentiary proof that consumers would be better off.
The time it takes for the FCC to act on what should be simple regulatory actions is concerning, especially with the FCC poised to take a larger role in Internet regulation. With the breakneck speed of innovation provided by technology and the Internet, imagine how many of the next Google or Facebooks could be lost to government red tape and a slow moving bureaucracy.
Up to now, the Internet has been largely unregulated, and because of that, we’ve seen an explosion of commerce and innovation. Without any sort of government intervention, the industry figured out payments, interconnection, and developed apps and platforms.
Because of this, consumers have already begun their own switch from hard-line telephones to IP services such as IP-based telephony and wireless data services. Many consumers find it hard to see the reason behind paying for these old hard-line systems. In fact, according to one report, 50% of consumers have dropped their landlines in favor of IP or a wireless phone.
With the 18th anniversary of President Clinton signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we should think about how we’ll act in the immediate future to reform our current antiquated view of telecommunications in America. With a speedy IP Transition, consumers will be better off for it.
Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute.