FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently proposed a set of guidelines that start the update process to regulate telephone companies as they make their transition from a legacy TDM voice infrastructure to IP-based real time communications platforms. Wheeler recognizes -- as we pointed out a year ago in this blog that the when it comes to the transition from PSTN to VoIP, the industry has far more regulatory questions than answers and that a public policy debate is much needed. Wheeler’s rules will be up for consideration at the Commission Open Meeting on August 6.
Wheeler’s first concern is that “consumers have the information and tools necessary to maintain available communications at home during an emergency.” His proposed rules would require voice service providers to offer consumers the option to buy backup power so they can use their home phones during power outages. The rules would also require that providers ensure that a technical solution for 8 hours of standby backup power is available for consumers in the immediate term, and that within three years, providers offer an option for 24 hours of standby backup power.
The proposal also requires that subscribers “be notified of plans to retire copper networks approximately six months in advance for non-residential customers, and three months in advance for residential customers.”
To preserve competition in the enterprise market, the draft rules require that replacement services be offered to competitive providers with comparable rates, terms and conditions to the legacy services being replaced. Wheeler’s proposal notes that this condition “would be an interim measure, pending the completion of the FCC’s special access proceeding which is examining these issues more broadly.”
Finally, the proposed rules would require that the new services be evaluated and be found satisfactory before the old services can be discontinued. The FCC would set standards to assure customer needs are met with the new services, including:
- Support for 911 services and call centers
- Network capacity and reliability
- Quality of both voice service and Internet access
- Interoperability with devices and services, such as alarm services and medical monitoring
- Access for people with disabilities, including compatibility with assistive technologies
- Network security in any IP-supported network that is comparable to the legacy network
- Coverage throughout the service area, either by the substitute network or via service from other providers
Our observations: While these proposed rules are a good start, it seems likely that these are only the beginning of what will become a cumbersome but necessary set of regulations as telco transitions proceed. We just hope that this process will be less adversarial than the methodology used for net neutrality. If telcos are to finish this transition before the end of this decade as planned, everybody will need to cooperate on the best approach to get it done.