Yesterday, Verizon filed comments [PDF] at the FCC with recommendations for how the FCC should approach the ongoing transition from the legacy, voice public switched telephone network of the past. The industry is already moving towards the all-IP, all-broadband future that consumers want, but as always there are some in our world who want to look backwards rather than forwards.
To its credit, the FCC recognizes the importance of moving to broadband and IP. Recently, Chairman Genachowski challenged the industry to bring at least one gigabit-speed internet community to each state by 2015. The FCC has also taken important steps to help facilitate the transition by reforming the universal service and inter-carrier compensation systems.
The Commission now has the opportunity to consider additional steps that can further the transition, as recommended in the National Broadband Plan. The FCC has already paved the way for this with the creation of the Technology Transitions Task Force, and there are some straightforward steps the Commission can take to help accelerate the transition, as we’ve detailed in our comments.
But let’s not kid ourselves – transitions like this can be unsettling. People generally resist change, and it’s easy to focus on and worry about the differences resulting from a transition to IP-based networks, rather than seeing the benefits and new opportunities that will be created. I’m sure that a century ago, there were people concerned about the transition underway from the old, familiar horse that had served them well for centuries, to those new-fangled “automobiles." Someone might have said, “If my horse gets tired, I can let it rest, eat some grass by the side of the road and keep going, but if my car runs out of gas, I’m stuck!” All transitions involve trade-offs, but no one would seriously entertain moving backwards.
The fact is – in many cases out of necessity – transformation of our nation’s communications infrastructure is already underway. The Commission only has to look to Lower Manhattan to see what the future of communications holds. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Verizon engineers have been working around the clock for the last three months, replacing damaged copper cables with modern fiber infrastructure. The faster the FCC acts on reforming outdated regulations, the quicker next-generation technology can be rolled out to the rest of the country.
As the FCC contemplates this transition, it should resist the calls to shoe-horn old laws and regulations onto 21st-century services. The FCC should embrace rather than shy away from change. It should identify what public policy objectives continue to be important and how best to achieve them in the competitive, highly dynamic, fixed and mobile, app-driven broadband IP world we are rapidly moving into.