Downes to FCC: Retire the Circuit-Switched Telephone Network – Soon
The time has come for the Federal Communications Commission to determine a hard sunset date for our “obsolete” circuit-switched telephone network, according to Forbes contributor and author Larry Downes.
Consumer usage of traditional, copper-based telephone networks has declined considerably in recent years as more and more people favor Internet-based alternatives. Higher-quality and lower-priced voice services from Internet Service Providers, in addition to dozens of over-the-top providers such as Skype, Google, Vonage and Magic Jack, mean fewer and fewer people use the aging wireline network each day. This shift to Internet-Protocol based communications means the residual value of the old copper network assets – switches, copper wiring, and other equipment – are falling fast, while maintenance costs are soaring. As Downes recommends, “We should put it out of its misery.”
Network operators have seen the writing on the wall. Broadband for America members Verizon and AT&T have invested billions to upgrade their networks from copper to fiber, and circuit-switched with packet-switched equipment. But the migration from copper-based to Internet-based communications is not as simple as just upgrading infrastructure. Downes explains, “… regulators at the federal and state level still treat switched telephony as if it were not only the dominant voice service, but in many cases as if it were the only choice… The maintenance, usage and pricing of legacy infrastructure, for example, are still subject to often-minute oversight by an alphabet soup of federal and state regulators. Leftover rules from the early 20th century days of monopoly carriers and equipment providers even make it difficult for wireline providers to terminate services without permission, even if they are replacing those services with something better and cheaper.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski himself admitted that today’s regulatory structure needs to be examined, saying, “…the ongoing changes in our nation’s communications networks require a hard look at many rules that were written for a different technological and market landscape.”
Last December, Broadband for America member US Telecom took action to update our out-of-date communications regulations. The trade group filed a petition with the FCC with the intention of meeting the Commission’s established policy goal of modernizing its rules in order to “accelerate the transition from circuit-switched to IP networks, with voice ultimately one of many applications running over fixed and mobile broadband networks.”
The FCC is at a turning point, and Downes hopes the Commission moves onto an essential task: “clearing away the regulatory rubble that will otherwise delay the speedy transition” to our IP-based future. “If not for the sake of the industries being transformed, than for U.S. consumers – who only stand to gain.”