Principles for a Successful IP Transition: 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. High-quality networks across the country will ensure that people in all communities have the ability to create, invent, and use products and services that can enhance our world. Broad access to high speed IP networks is essential to making sure technology continues to evolve. Just as important, however, is ensuring that a regulatory regime is in place that allows development of the next big thing to continue unabated. Some in Washington seem to recognize the issue. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said during an October 2013 hearing that a real balancing act is needed to get the IP transition right. “We must strike the appropriate balance between protecting consumers, promoting competition and not slowing the pace of needed innovation,” he said. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a speech late last year that regulators need to demonstrate some “humility” when they make decisions and “respect the power of innovation to, without warning, alter what we think we know.” As the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force recognizes, VoIP interconnection could actually unleash innovation making available new services and features such as high definition (HD) audio, additional video and text media formats, and secured caller ID. Edyael Casaperalta of the Center for Rural Strategies said creative minds in the industry will be curbed and consumers won’t be able to benefit from future developments in telemedicine and other applications if access to infrastructure is restricted. “We want to have access to these networks so we can continue to innovate,” she stated. The loss of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) would take away a vehicle that many competitive carriers have used to kick start new technologies since incumbent wireline providers are required to lease the network out to other providers. Fiber and licensed wireless networks have no such requirements, which might make it more difficult for innovators to create. This explains why some stakeholders believe that new requirements for IP networks will be needed to ensure continued technological innovation. A lack of innovation could result in fewer providers in the market and higher prices for consumers. “Competition is key and innovation is key … to drive the price down,” said Matthew Rantanen of Native Public Media. “If you only have one player in town … whatever they decide to do, you don’t have a choice.” Ubiquity, Accessibility, Diversity, Openness, Competition, Interconnection, Trustworthiness, Robustness and Resiliency, Speed, and Innovation. These are the 10 interrelated principles for a successful IP transition identified in our new report, The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities. The transition from traditional telephone service to emerging broadband networks promises improved communications networks, but can it ultimately deliver? To successfully negotiate the transition, the Federal Communications Commission must include a broad set of stakeholders in the process and their concerns need to be taken into account. For decades, America’s telecommunications network was the envy of the world because of, not in spite of, regulation. What’s not needed now is deregulation, but smart policy choices that ensure our societal values – the public interest – remain embedded in the networks of tomorrow. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls these policy choices the Network Compact, the basic rights of consumers and the basic responsibilities of network operators. As conveyed here, to ensure the benefits of broadband reach all Americans, especially those most at risk of being harmed in the transition, we need a new compact for these new networks. The compact must encompass ubiquity, accessibility, diversity, openness, trustworthiness, robustness, resiliency, and speed. The compact must embrace competition and interconnection so the networks and the services provided over them continue to evolve and innovate. In December 1913, AT&T Vice President Nathan Kingsbury sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General George McReynolds “[w]ishing to put [the company’s] affairs beyond fair criticism” of anticompetitive practices. In the letter, AT&T promised to sell its stake in Western Union Telegraph, resolve interconnection disputes, and refrain from further acquisitions of independent telephone companies if the Interstate Commerce Commission objected. The letter and the promise to address concerns about competition became known as the Kingsbury Commitment. One hundred years later, AT&T 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.” Ensuring “competition in the transmission of intelligence by wire” is even more crucial in 2013 and beyond. As Chairman Wheeler recognizes, “the new information networks are the new economy. Earlier networks enabled ancillary economic activities… what today’s new networks haul isn’t an input to a product, it is the product itself. Our growth industries are today based on the exchange and use of digital information. As such, information networks aren’t ancillary; they are integral.” As we embark on the IP transition, we need a new network compact that guarantees that the public, not just industry, benefits from the migration to digital networks. No one can be left behind in this great movement away from the PSTN. That means all children can use the new networks for learning, all seniors can access health services and information and all adults can look for jobs or start a business using them. The nation’s future depends on it. How can we truly say the U.S. offers opportunity for all if the 21st century’s main knowledge tool isn't available for everyone?