Today, the FCC missed an opportunity to deliver on President Obama’s directive to remove unnecessary, outdated regulations. Fifteen months ago, USTelecom filed a petition asking for regulatory relief from a host of old and arcane requirements, many of which were created in the days of rotary dial telephones. For example, the petition covered antiquated accounting rules developed decades ago. These accounting rules require some wireline companies to keep two sets of books – one set consistent with SEC requirements for public companies; the other set based on FCC requirements that nobody, not even the FCC, ever looks at.
These rules may have had a purpose at one point, but it is clear that they no longer do. (In fact, try to find a communications lawyer that understands them – it is harder than you think.) None of these rules are necessary to serve the agency’s current needs. We made the point that even if the FCC needed these data in the future, the FCC could request it from our companies and we would provide it. None of these rules apply to the competitors of legacy voice services that are signing up customers every day in droves. Today, cable companies, Voice over IP providers, wireless providers, and other competitors serve four times as many connections as traditional phone company connections. Most importantly, none of these rules have any impact on consumers.
We can all agree that the issues surrounding the industry’s transition from legacy copper services to all IP and wireless networks are complex. We appreciate that the FCC wants to deal with these issues in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. But the easy part of this process was supposed to be eliminating old rules that are no longer necessary, like these old accounting rules. Today’s action begs an important question – if the agency cannot grant relief from decades-old rules that serve no current purpose, how will it handle the bigger issues brought about by the dramatic changes in the marketplace?
These are much larger questions and require a much longer conversation. We know that everyone – policymakers, industry players, and consumers – must come to grips with our constantly changing world of new technologies. One way policymakers can help with that adjustment is to ask and answer a simple question as these issues arise: Do these rules written in a different century, for different technologies, and different purposes serve the needs of consumers, industry or this agency today? With that as the starting point, we can make sure that this transition from the old world to the new is smooth and successful for all.