May 10, 2013 - 12:59 pm
By Sean Lev | General Counsel

Today, the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force issued a Public Notice proposing to conduct real-world trials and seeking input on specific potential trials.  The goal of any trials will be to assist the Commission in ensuring that its policy decisions relating to ongoing technology transitions are solidly grounded in good data.

Communications networks are changing from copper to fiber and from time division multiplexing (TDM) to Internet protocols; wireless voice and data services are increasingly important.  These are exciting developments.  The ongoing technology transitions hold the promise for tremendous benefits for consumers.  Among other things, these new technologies can deliver higher quality service and higher speed broadband to more Americans.  IP-based networks also make it easier to deploy feature-rich next-generation 911 systems.   At the same time, we must ensure that the transitions preserve and advance the core values reflected in the Communications Act:  consumer protection, universal service, competition, and public safety.

To protect those core values, we need good data.  Indeed, Chairman Genachowski established the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force to “conduct a data driven review” as it formulates “recommendations to modernize the Commission’s policies.”  Accordingly, in March, the Task Force held a public workshop with experts from around the country.  The workshop focused on the capabilities and limitations of new and emerging technologies, the decisions consumers are making as they adopt voice and broadband services, and the plans of various providers in deploying the new technologies.

Building on this work, we issued a Public Notice today proposing to move forward with trials and seeking comment on a number of possible trials, including on next-generation 911, on the effect of transitioning consumers from wireline to wireless services, and on interconnection for Voice over IP (“VoIP”) traffic, an issue that many competitive providers have raised.  We also ask about trials involving other issues, such as access for people with disabilities, and numbering databases.  And we invite parties who prefer more open-ended trials focused on making a general switch to all-IP technology in a geographic area, not specific issues, to submit more detailed plans than they have done to date as to how those trials would work.  The proposals to date have been general in describing how such trials would work, what they would actually test, and how consumers and public safety would be protected.  

Today’s Notice reflects the need to be smart about how we structure trials for them to be useful.  We need to know what we want to test and how we will evaluate the results.  If we’re trying to test the consequences of different regulatory frameworks, we need ensure that the results don’t simply reflect carriers on their “best behavior.”   At least as important, we need to ensure that consumers involved in any trial are protected from adverse consequences.  And we need to think carefully about how best to coordinate with relevant state, local, and Tribal entities.

We look forward to active engagement from all stakeholders in response to the public notice and welcome feedback as we move forward.