One Hundred Years After AT&T's Kingsbury Commitment, Benton Calls for a New Network Compact in Report

One Hundred Years After AT&T's Kingsbury Commitment, Benton Calls for a New Network Compact in Report

In The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities, released today, the Benton Foundation identifies 10 interrelated principles to help policymakers guide the transition from traditional telephone service to emerging broadband networks. In sum, these principles are intended to guarantee that all Americans will have access to Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled networks that are: 1) fairly priced; 2) offer a high quality of service with the capability of running essential applications; and 3) allow people -- regardless of age, ability, location, or economic status -- the chance to receive, develop and share content as well as use and create new technologies.

The report highlights the concerns of vulnerable communities through the eyes of the individuals and organizations who work on a daily basis with children, people with disabilities, low-income families, communities of color, rural residents and senior citizens. As an integral part of their jobs, these advocates must understand the struggles of these vulnerable populations to help them overcome the obstacles they face. As such, they are well-suited to help the regulators make better, more-informed decisions about this transition.

“On December 19, 1913,” said Amina Fazlullah, the foundation’s Director of Policy, “AT&T Vice President Nathan Kingsbury sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General George McReynolds in hopes of putting AT&T’s business practices ‘beyond fair criticism’ of anticompetitive behavior. In the letter, AT&T promised to sell its stake in Western Union Telegraph, resolve interconnection disputes, and refrain from acquisitions if the Interstate Commerce Commission objected. The letter became known as the 'Kingsbury Commitment.' One hundred years later, AT&T and other landline telephone carriers seeks to retire the copper-based phone system. But the nation cannot retire the commitment Attorney General McReynolds understood to create ‘full opportunity throughout the country for competition in the transmission of intelligence by wire.’”

“As we embark on what’s being called the IP transition, we need a new network compact for the 21st century that guarantees that the public, not just industry, benefits from the migration to digital networks,” said Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton. “The Federal Communications Commission needs to consider a wide array of vulnerable communities that could be unfairly disadvantaged during this conversion. Depending on how this transition is done, these communities stand to benefit immensely or be disproportionately harmed. Only by fully understanding the possible pitfalls and opportunities of such a change can the FCC develop a set of ‘rules of the road’ that will best serve all of the country’s residents.”

“If the IP Transition is to be successful for all Americans,” Fazlullah added, “broadband networks must be available, accessible, affordable, trustworthy, and relevant to new adopters.”

Benton’s Ten Principles for the IP Transition

  1. Ubiquity: Every American needs to have affordable access to high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks.
  2. Accessibility: The 54 million Americans with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations, must be able to make full use of broadband networks and the video and voice services that run over these networks.
  3. Diversity: In addition to ubiquitous availability, Americans must have the ability to access and distribute content that reflects the country’s diversity of viewpoints.
  4. Openness: Consumers must retain their rights to utilize any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they use.
  5. Competition: Policies should encourage new entrants into the emerging IP-enabled network market.
  6. Interconnection: Regulators must ensure that competing network providers are able to interconnect in areas where there is legacy market power. Subscribers must be able to reach subscribers on any other network.
  7. Trustworthiness: As technology moves forward, consumers must retain key protections that ensure a fair and safe experience.
  8. Robustness and Resiliency: To ensure public safety, consumers need to be able to rely on networks in emergencies.
  9. Speed: Consumers need fast networks that allow them access to and choice of a full range of services to meet their needs.
  10. Innovation: For consumers, the promise of the IP transition is new services and ways to collaborate and communicate that are better and more advanced than current basic telephone communications.

To read The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities and for more on the IP Transition, see:

Amina Fazlullah
Director of Policy
Benton Foundation
[email protected]