FCC OKs IP transition trials with focus on consumers

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to allow telephone companies to propose trials that would replace traditional technology with Internet-based technology.

The phone companies asking for the trials argue they have to maintain the costly, highly regulated older technologies despite the fact that customers are increasingly relying on the newer Internet-based technologies. 

After the unanimous vote at Thursday’s FCC meeting, companies can approach the commission with proposals for trials to learn more about this technological switch — the Internet Protocol, or IP, transition.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stressed the trials must protect the agency’s guiding principles, consumer protection, competition, public safety and universal access.

“Those are the values against we need to measure what happens in the trial,” he said.

Wheeler also said he would be “particularly mindful” of IP transition experiments in communities with Americans with disabilities. 

The commission’s goal of giving Americans access to communications tools “is not just geographic,” he said. “All Americans have that access right, including Americans with disabilities.”

The trials would not deal with the “very big legal and policy questions that are raised by the IP transition,” he said. The commission will begin to address those questions once it has results from the trials, he continued.

“The purpose of the experiments is not to test technology or to decide law or policy,” Julie Veach, chief of the agency’s Wireline Competition Bureau, said.

Instead, the trials will answer the question, “How we can best preserve or even enhance the core values consumers have come to expect,” she said.

AT&T, which pushed the FCC to allow these trials, commended the agency for its “bold leap forward on the path to a modern 21st Century broadband.”

In a blog post, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi said the company would “work with the Commission and all other stakeholders to ensure that we preserve those values throughout this transition.”

“We’re now embarking on a task that’s of vital importance to our Nation,” Cicconi wrote. “We have an obligation to do it right. And we will.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications, applauded the commission for its commitment to those principles.

“I welcome the FCC’s introduction of a framework to maintain those guiding principles … as America’s communications companies transition to IP networks,” she said in a statement. “Investments in innovation are essential in our digital world, and this framework keeps us on a responsible path forward.”

By ensuring protections for consumers are in place as the trials move forward, the FCC is agreeing “that customers are not guinea pigs,” Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

“By building on the knowledge gained in these trials, the FCC can manage the process to minimize disruption and maximize benefit for all.”