The telephone network that we use today relies, in part, on the same system of copper wires that has served Americans for over a century. This copper-based telephone network, or “legacy technology,” was originally built solely to carry basic voice services, such as local and long distance phone calls. Increasingly, Americans are subscribing to a variety of new, advanced communications services offered, both on the copper-based network, and on alternative platforms.
What is the IP Transition?
IP Transition is a short-hand expression for multiple technology transitions ongoing today. Physical networks that transmit communications services are changing from networks built for one specific purpose (e.g., telephone calls) to IP-based networks built for a variety of purposes (e.g., broadband, video, data, voice, etc.). Transitioning these networks often involves a change in the network equipment used to transmit signals, and a change in the language, known as “Internet Protocol” or “IP,” the equipment uses to communicate. Providers are also transitioning the pathways that make up communications networks, from copper wire that was mainly used in legacy networks to coaxial cable, optical fiber, and wireless technology that are increasingly used in IP networks. As part of the IP Transition, many legacy services are transitioning to advanced services that can take advantage of the capabilities of IP networks. For example, the number of households subscribing to interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service continues to grow – with at least 42 million such subscriptions in place in the U.S., as of December 2012.
Why Does the IP Transition Matter?
Americans have come to expect secure, reliable, and innovative communications services. It is important for the FCC to help speed market-driven technology transitions and innovation, while at the same time ensuring preservation of the core values codified by Congress in our communications laws – public safety, widespread and affordable access, competition, and consumer protection.
What Is Being Done to Prepare for the IP Transition?
The FCC needs data to make informed decisions related to the IP transition. In early 2014, the FCC launched the process for various experiments and data collection initiatives that will allow the FCC and the public to evaluate how customers are affected by the technology transitions that are transforming the nation’s voice communications services. The FCC invited communications providers to propose “service-based” experiments that will examine the impacts on consumers and businesses of replacing existing services with IP-based alternatives. The FCC also set a timetable for public comment on any experiments that may be proposed.
To the extent that any experiment involves discontinuation of a provider’s existing telecommunications services, the FCC made clear that the provider would have to seek FCC permission and meet certain requirements before any such request would be granted, as required by federal law. This process provides an opportunity for public comment as well.
Will I Know if My Provider Is Conducting an Experiment in My Area?
Yes. Communications providers must give their customers notice before including a customer’s communications services in an experiment. The FCC will review all experiment proposals to make sure that customer interests are protected before, during, and after the experiment.
Will the IP Transition Affect Me If My Provider Does Not Conduct an Experiment?
Providers all across the nation are upgrading their networks and migrating to IP-based services outside of the context of the experiments described above. The Commission’s existing rules are designed to protect customers, including during technology transitions. Among other things, your telephone service provider may not stop offering telephone service without notifying customers and obtaining FCC authorization.
Other Experiments and Research on the IP Transition
At the same time that the FCC established a process for “service-based” experiments, the agency announced it would sponsor targeted experiments and cooperative research to learn how new technologies can more effectively reach all Americans, including individuals with disabilities. One set of experiments under development would provide targeted funding for rural broadband experiments to help the FCC understand what kinds of next-generation networks can best serve the needs of rural America.
The FCC is hosting a series of workshops in 2014 to gain further insight into consumer issues associated with the IP transition. The workshops will discuss disability issues, rural broadband options, public safety, and other important topics. For information on upcoming and past workshops, please visit www.fcc.gov/events.
Consumer Feedback on the IP Transition
The FCC’s goal is to learn about the impact of the technology transitions on the customers – and communities – that rely on communications networks. To develop a better understanding of the technological transition from the consumer’s perspective, the FCC is in the midst of reforming our consumer complaint and inquiry processes to allow for greater collaboration with state, local, and tribal governments and leaders.
Until these reforms are complete, you can file your complaint using an FCC online complaint form, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center using the information below.
For More Information
For information about this and other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer Publications Library, contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or write to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
IP Transition Guide (PDF)Updated: May 20, 2014