Bring in the IP transition

The United States is a 21st century country, with an economy of trillions of dollars, powered by amazing technologies and innovations — think computers, high-speed Internet Protocol (IP) technology, software and apps, and wireless devices.

But despite these technical advances, our nation’s telecommunications system still overly relies on an outdated 20th century technology consisting largely of copper wiring that harkens back to the days of Alexander Graham Bell and rotary telephone dials.

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But a change is afoot, a change that can meet the growing demand of consumers who thirst for faster and more advanced broadband. This is a change that must be made if the U.S. also wants to compete effectively with the rest of the world. That change means making the transition from the 20th century technology to fiber and all-IP technology of our century. 

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission announced the formation of a committee to investigate the processes, benefits and complexities of moving to an all-IP system. Part of the FCC’s plan to transition to all-IP networks includes the IP transition trials, which would offer a runway for test flights of new services, new infrastructure and a workable process for converting consumers from the old to the new.

The potential benefits of the IP transition would be tremendous in terms of economic development, job creation and growth, and consumer welfare. Today, Americans can browse the Internet, watch videos, use apps for everything from free navigation to restaurant reviews, make phone calls, and send text and email messages with a handheld device. How can these services be expanded?

What is needed is more fiber deployment, along with more spectrum for wireless broadband. This holds the key to a healthier and expanding U.S. economy. Fiber promises faster service and more efficiency at a time when consumers’ thirst for broadband is higher than ever. 

However, getting everyone onboard with “IP transition” trials and moving ahead is taking considerable time, which contributes to slower implementation of these advanced services for consumers, particularly for bandwidth-intensive applications. This means less investment and fewer jobs.  

Current regulations require broadband providers to continue significant investments in old, antiquated copper infrastructure, something that undoubtedly is in American consumers’ rearview mirrors. These regulations require telecommunications providers to spend much of their capital on outdated infrastructure, taking away from the investment levels that are desperately needed in the next generation of broadband service. According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report, investments in broadband networks produce more economic output and create more jobs than investments in traditional telecommunications systems. This means that obsolete regulations are costing U.S. jobs, diminishing economic output and denying consumers the services they want.

What’s the solution to moving forward? First, it’s important to get started on the IP transition trials. Trials will ensure that consumers and businesses are not negatively affected by the transition. They would also allow broadband service providers to soar with new technologies and services while still using a safety net. The fact is that consumers are making the transition today, so why should the regulators wait? These trials are important in working out the kinks, learning best practices, and getting consumers the superior services that they so obviously demand.

As co-chairs of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee’s Internet Protocol Transition Working Group, we implore the FCC to move forward with the trials to get the ball rolling. If we, as a nation, are to meet the goals of the president’s National Broadband Plan, we need new investment and a new plan to carry forward the United States into the 21st century. 

These old regulations are slowing much-needed investments, hurting economic development and blocking the innovative services that consumers are demanding. Technology should be moving at blazingly fast Internet speeds, and regulations need to advance — not impede — that progress. 

Now is the time for the FCC to push for positive change.

Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research and Umansky is an attorney and professor at Ball State University’s Digital Policy Institute. They are co-chairmen of the IP Transition Working Group, a subcommittee of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Committee. Although various IP transition issues are currently under consideration by the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee's Internet Protocol Transition Working Group, its balanced membership does not necessarily share the perspectives expressed here.  In fact, no votes have been taken by the Working Group on these matters, nor have any recommendations been voted or sent to the CAC for consideration.  The op-ed represents only the authors' views and does not speak for the Working Group or the CAC


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