FCC to Tackle PSTN Shutdown Issues

November 20, 2013
By: Gary Kim

Nothing ever is really easy for communications regulators when it comes to crafting rules that promote both competition and investment, as well as “fair” policies when industries collide or a major transition has to be made from older technologies to newer technologies.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission therefore will not face a politically easy task when it once again engages in December 2013, with the process of speeding the transition from legacy time division multiplex networks to Internet Protocol networks.

The transition includes other elements, such as the transition from copper access to fiber and other forms of access, the rules that should apply to legacy services in the transition and whether the new networks also require different policy frameworks.

The FCC’s (News - Alert) Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update in December, with the expectation that an order for immediate action will be considered. That means the FCC will ask for further input on what experiments need to be conducted on how IP networks can, and should work.

The order also will ask for input on processes the FCC can use to guide the shutdown of the older public network and the activation of new IP networks.

Recently, for example, there has been friction between buyers of special access services and sellers of such services. But disputes over special access rates and terms of service have been contentious for some time.

Buyers of special access services frequently have complained about high prices for special access. In 2012, the FCC suspended pricing freedom rules for special access services, because of such friction.

Most recently, AT&T (News - Alert) changed its multi-year contract rates, in anticipation of a complete phase out of special access services, in favor of Ethernet only high-bandwidth services.

That illustrates the many practical considerations the FCC will face as it plans for a shutdown of the older network and the substitution of an all-IP network.

Many bigger issues will have to be confronted, though, including such issues as the extent of common carrier rules in an environment where some telcos, but not other service providers, must comply with such rules.

Those rules will necessarily affect policy about investment in rural and hard-to-serve areas, for example.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker