FCC Gets Earful on AT&T IP Petition

MSOs Say Commisson Should Take Light Touch to IP

The FCC drew a flood of comments on AT&T's petition that the FCC deregulate traditional circuit-switched phone regs as AT&T and others make the switch to IP-delivered service, including from cable operators who wanted to make sure that whatever the FCC did, it continued to ensure that cable's VoIP phone traffic could have access to AT&T and other incumbent local phone companies.

AT&T last fall asked the commission to open a proceeding looking into removing regulations that require incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to maintain legacy facilities and services even after it has deployed new, IP-based networks.

It points out that as the FCC migrates Universal Service Fund subsidies to those legacy facilities in high-cost, rural areas, it will be even harder for ILECs to maintain those legacy networks and the investments those regulations require to be put into redundant service.

AT&T says rules that discourage incumbents, and incumbents alone, from investing in new or upgraded IP networks are "irrational and counterproductive" and make no sense because they treat those incumbents as dominant providers in an IP-based broadband market that others lead.

AT&T also asked the FCC to select some of the incumbents' systems as test beds for transitioning from legacy circuit-switched to next generation services, and removing the regs they say encumber that move. That includes extending interconnection to IP, which AT&T suggests would be grafting outmoded rules onto a next-generation technology.

In comments to the FCC, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said it generally favored a light-touch regulatory approach to IP "retail" voice service, but said it should continue to "oversee interconnection for the exchange of voice traffic to ensure there is no harmful disruption to competitive providers and their customers as a result of the incumbent LECs' technological transition."

Cablevision added its "amen" in separate comments, putting in a plug for IP interconnection given that AT&T currently requires it to convert to and from IP delivery to traditional TDM (time division multiplex) delivery when interconnecting its VoIP traffic with AT&T and other ILECs.

Comments ran the gamut, including from minority groups backing the AT&T petition, though with a focus on the test beds as a good idea. Then there was Free Press. It argued that the AT&T petition was tantamount to asking the FCC to end all Title II oversight of telecommunications.

The Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, NAACP, RainbowPUSH and other minority advocates said the supported the market test and a dialog about the transition to IP. They called the proposed trials' incremental and geographically limited approach a sensible method of determining how to undertake this transition. But they reserved judgment on AT&T's specific recommendations.

Free Press did not reserve judgment on AT&T's specific suggestions. It said that if the FCC did launch an inquiry it would need to be a broad one, since a narrow ruling on AT&T's individual requests could result in the total deregulation of telecom networks.

Free Press says the AT&T request is the first in a series of dominoes whose fall would end in "complete 'non-regulation.'"

"AT&T and its kin have convinced the Commission that the use of 'IP' by any entity to offer public communications services renders that service an inextricably intertwined information service, with the transmission functions lying outside the [common carriage] bounds of Title II," Free Press argues.

Free Press sees other dominos that could fall if all telecom services are classified as IP. "The Commission's Open Internet Rules are based in part on ancillary authority to telecommunications regulations. But if there are no longer telecommunications services subject to Title II, a major rationale for these Open Internet rules vanishes. There is also inherent danger in handing all oversight duties for our nation's entire communications system to the companies whose converged business model forces broadband users to subsidize the annual video programming price hike dictated by local broadcasters and sports franchises."