Tuesday, January 13
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has taken to the pages of Roll Call to argue that Congress should act now to ensure net neutrality. An excerpt:
The coming month, before the FCC acts presents a timely opportunity for Congress to step in and resolve the debate on terms that would seemingly be agreeable to Democrats and Republicans, broadband providers and consumers seeking continued access to robust high-speed Internet services. The FCC promulgated its open Internet rule in 2010 against a backdrop of consensus that had been reached through lengthy discussions among the stakeholders. While not all of the parties were in agreement, a critical mass of consumer groups, broadband providers and policymakers created the consensus that resulted in the FCC’s open Internet framework. It’s notable that among broadband providers, AT&T publicly expressed support for the rule, and it was ultimately approved with the FCC’s Democratic members voting affirmatively. Even more noteworthy is that in the four years since the open Internet rule was adopted, broadband providers have integrated its requirements into daily operations, and high-speed Internet access service has expanded absent consumer complaints of violations.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at Roll Call.
Thursday, January 08
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher recently penned an op-ed for Bloomberg on the critical need to reform Lifeline. An excerpt:
Each day brings new examples of how broadband-delivered Internet services are fundamentally changing the nature of communications. In the 1980’s, the wired telephone was the predominant communications platform for almost everyone. Today, just five percent of Americans rely exclusively on “plain old telephone service.” The rest use a variety of communications devices, a growing number of which are broadband-enabled.
So the question is not just whether to expand Lifeline to include broadband, an idea endorsed by two FCC commissioners and the chairman at the agency’s December open meeting; the question is how to incorporate broadband without exploding the cost of the program.
You can check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at Bloomberg.
Tuesday, November 18
Our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher has an op-ed in The Hill on how outdated regulations are limiting competition when it comes to broadband. An excerpt:
Consumers are fleeing the old network in droves. Only 5 percent use it exclusively, and another 28 percent use it in combination with a wireless service. Two-thirds of communications users have left the old network entirely. Every dollar telcos are required to spend on a network consumers are abandoning is a dollar not spent on deploying the modern networks that consumers prefer. Viewed in this light, the USTA plea for relief is entirely understandable — and it’s entirely justified.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he wants more “meaningful competition” in high-speed broadband, particularly between telecom companies and cable providers. As Wheeler put it, these new broadband entrants are “well-positioned to give cable a run for its money, offering consumers greater choice.” This is exactly how it should work.
Check out Boucher’s full op-ed over at The Hill.
Thursday, November 13
Over at Bloomberg Law, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving and Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher have penned an op-ed on why the FCC should focus on Section 706 rather than Title II when it comes to net neutrality. An excerpt:
Everyone agrees that broadband providers should not become content gatekeepers. That’s been clear since 2010 when the FCC initiated its inquiry into how best to maintain an open Internet. Moreover, the facts make clear that the underlying success of the Internet in the two decades since its commercialization has been based on light-touch federal regulation and private sector, commercially-negotiated arrangements among service providers that have led to very few real complaints about supposed “gatekeepers.”
Under section 706, the FCC could prohibit so-called “paid prioritization” anytime such a practice has the effect of slowing down content or degrading the quality of service that any broadband customer receives, and which represent the alleged potential harms that lie at the core of the concerns expressed by activists urging Title II reclassification.
This fall’s intense debate is not about whether to preserve an open Internet. It’s about which of two available approaches the FCC could use is best.
Check out the full op-ed over at Bloomberg Law.
Tuesday, October 14
Earlier today, our own Rick Boucher joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Washington D.C.‘s WAMU to discuss the transition to all-IP networks and what that will mean for communication and innovation. Check out an archive of the conversation here.
Thursday, October 02
There are several commonly disseminated myths aimed at perpetuating confusion and misinformation during the pendency of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet proceeding. Facts, however, cut through the clutter and allow for a discussion rooted in reality rather than rhetoric.
Title II reclassification of broadband is not necessary to preserve an Open Internet.
Here’s why the FCC can and should move forward with Open Internet rules designed under its Section 706 authority rather than reclassifying broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act:
TITLE II AND SECTION 706: Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Title II regulations helped bring about the Internet boom of the early 2000s.
Fact: Although an initial investment spike occurred immediately after the passage of the 1996 Act, that investment was short-lived. That initial spate of investment was primarily directed at technologies and business models that were quickly outstripped by more modern technologies. In fact, the majority of the investment in our country’s broadband infrastructure occurred after the FCC’s 2003-05 decisions to decrease regulations on the broadband industry. This surge in investment laid the groundwork for high-speed Internet to become a leading driver of our nation’s economic growth and to spur the incredible innovation consumers enjoy today.
Myth: Title II-like regulations helped Europe leapfrog the U.S. on broadband deployment.
Fact: Europe gave up its leadership position when it began its path toward heavy-handed regulation that deterred broadband investment and deployment.
According to an independent study, today nearly 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to next-generation, high-speed broadband networks (over 25Mbps) while only 54% of Europeans have comparable access. In rural areas, the U.S. again leads in access, 48% to 12%. Next-generation wireless broadband (LTE) is available to 86% of Americans but only 27% of Europeans.
European broadband policies are built on extensive, public utility-style regulation that has depressed broadband investment. In contrast, the U.S. light-touch regulation model has enabled U.S. broadband network operators to invest more than double per household than Europe does: $562 versus $244 in Europe.
Myth: Applying Title II regulations to broadband networks and providers will prevent companies from creating Internet “fast lanes”.
Fact: The FCC has stated that no ISP has ever engaged in paid prioritization schemes. No evidence exists that ISPs have ever or are likely to create fast lanes and slow lanes.
Reclassifying broadband under Title II would not prevent such. In fact, under Title II, public utilities have always been allowed to offer prioritized services. Telephone companies routinely offer installation and repair priority along with service level guarantees to those willing to pay extra money.
According to FCC Chairman Wheeler, the 2010 net neutrality rules were never intended to cover these privately-negotiated business deals, only the last mile of the Internet.
Myth: Wireless networks and wireline networks are virtually interchangeable these days and should have the same net neutrality rules.
Fact: In the 2010 rules, to which all carriers committed, the FCC stated that special characteristics of mobile broadband infrastructure make it essential to give mobile providers additional flexibility in how they manage the traffic on their networks. Due to resource constraints, such as the limited amount of spectrum available for consumer use, mobile networks operate differently than wireline networks. A stringent regulatory environment established under Title II, and intended primarily for a monopoly-era copper wireline world, would be onerous.
The FCC still imposed two conditions on wireless networks in 2010. First, wireless networks cannot block access to legal websites, with exclusions for reasonable network management. Second, wireless network providers were required to disclose their network management practices, performance and terms and conditions of their broadband services.
The current approach acknowledges how wireless networks are different from fixed networks but still protects consumers and enables investment and innovation in the intensely competitive wireless marketplace.
Myth: ISPs harm the open Internet through discriminatory practices. The only way to keep the Internet open is to reclassify Internet services as telecommunications services.
Fact: The Internet, without Title II regulations, is and has been open since its first public use. It continues to thrive in the current regulatory environment. In contrast, Title II regulation would stifle investment and hinder innovation. Innovative new services and business models would have to be vetted and approved by the FCC, slowing the Internet’s vitality and growth.
Ensuring a fair and open Internet through authority granted by Section 706 is a better path. Section 706 permits the FCC to prevent paid prioritization while encouraging innovation and investment from ISPs and other Internet companies.
Myth: Title II can be easily adapted to today’s modern communications systems.
Fact: The past 20 years have seen stunning technological advancements in the communication industry. Americans can now access a wealth of information in myriad new ways. The transformation of the communications industry has caused companies to no longer fit neatly into legal categories envisioned by the 1996 Telecommunications Act or, even more obviously, the Title II rules written in 1934. That’s why companies not normally thought of as “broadband providers” could find themselves categorized and regulated as telecommunications carriers because their service overlaps with the services provided by ISPs if Title II regulations are placed on broadband services. For example, when Google connects you to a business you searched, should it be considered subject to Title II? Or if a provider of email enables a video messaging session, would it open itself up to Title II regulation on the grounds that it is a facilities-based provider or reseller? Could be. And that’s the fear.
Myth: The FCC could apply Title II to broadband, but exercise its forbearance authority when dealing with innovative companies and services.
Fact: Reclassifying broadband services as telecommunication services under Title II would burden 1/6 of the nation’s economy with stringent, investment-inhibiting government regulation. The government would have expansive power over all broadband services, likely including all edge providers and consumer broadband applications and services. The process necessary to analyze and identify which areas of the nation’s broadband economy the FCC would spare from heavy government intrusion would be both lengthy and costly. Additional time and resources would probably be squandered in the litigation that will inevitably follow.
Myth: Unlike Title II, the FCC does not have the power to promote an open Internet under the limited provisions of Section 706.
Fact: Relying on Section 706 to protect consumers and ensure an Open Internet is a superior choice to the overbroad, utility-style Title II regulatory framework of the 1934 Communications Act.
The FCC’s Section 706-like approach in 2010, created rules that found the right balance between regulations necessary to advance consumer protection goals and the need to attract new investment to broadband to ensure future deployments of modern high-speed networks. Under those rules, access to capital grew and we saw massive growth in the digital app economy, video over broadband, VoIP, the advent of tablet computing, and the rise of mobile e-commerce.
Moreover, a Federal Appeals court has given Section 706 its seal of approval and the FCC can assert this authority with confidence. In fact, the courts have said that the FCC is empowered to create rules “governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic…that they will preserve and facilitate the “virtuous circle” of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet.”
The facts are clear: Reclassification of broadband under Title II is unnecessary to ensure continued Internet openness and would backfire with harmful consequences for innovation and investment. The FCC should instead make use of its powers under Section 706 to protect consumers, promote innovation and encourage nationwide deployment of next-generation broadband.
Monday, September 15
This morning, IIA filed Reply Comments with the FCC urging the Commission to embrace its 706 Authority instead of Title II reclassification in order to preserve an open Internet. In our comments we warned that reclassification would reverser decades of Commission precedent and potentially hurt the Internet ecosystem’s continued success and future of innovation.
Section 706 has worked well to protect the open Internet that everyone wants to preserve, while minimizing harm to investment and innovation. Section 706 remains viable and effective. By contrast, Title II is an antiquated regulatory framework designed for the era of monopoly telephone service that would undermine today’s competitive broadband marketplace and disserve consumers, dissuade entrepreneurs and inject unnecessary regulatory uncertainty threatening future dynamism in the broadband ecosystem.
— IIA Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman
Reliance on Section 706, we argue, enables proper balance between necessary regulation to advance such goals as consumer protection and the imperative of attracting new investment to broadband to ensure further deployments of ever-fast systems that will support the applications of tomorrow. It is also the only way to ensure the innovation and continued explosive growth necessary to meet the ambitious goals of the National Broadband Plan.
The FCC already has enough authority under Section 706 to keep the Internet open with high-speed access for consumers and flexibility for entrepreneurs to innovate. Reclassifying broadband as a utility is like using a sledgehammer when a screwdriver will suffice. Title II is a blunt instrument that might break the Internet’s record of innovation and investment, while Section 706 is a better tool for fixing any problems that arise.
— IIA Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons
Title II, we also note, was not the primary catalyst behind the massive investment that occurred following the enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and that if regulators wanted an example of the chilling effect Title II could have on broadband, Europe offers a good example.
European policies built on extensive, public utility-style regulation and wholesale network unbundling have depressed broadband investment and access to next-generation networks overseas, as fully 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to high-speed broadband networks compared to only 54% of European consumers. Section 706 fortunately offers us an alternative path that will enable the private investment necessary to deploy modern broadband networks—wireline, wireless, and cable—and continue the virtuous circle fueled by light-touch regulation of the Internet ecosystem.
— IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher
To read our Reply Comments in full, visit here.
Tuesday, July 08
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds more Americans than ever are moving away from traditional landline phone service. As The Hill’s Julian Hattem reports:
More than 4 in 10 American homes are landline phone-free and relying exclusively on cellphone service, according to a government survey released Tuesday.
That’s an increase over recent years, yet the growth of cellphone-only households might be slowing over time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.
The CDC has been mapping cellphone usage for years. The new analysis covered the last six months of 2013.
Given this ongoing trend of people giving up the traditional phone — along with the increasing cost of maintaining the network millions are leaving, it’s no surprise the FCC is currently working with carriers to sunset the traditional network in favor of Internet-powered networks.
For more on the transition to all-IP networks, check out this op-ed from our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher on a beta trial underway in Florida.
Friday, June 20
We’ll find out soon enough whether the U.S. soccer team can survive the World Cup’s “Group of Death” with two strong European competitors (England and Germany). But for broadband, it’s clear who’s winning: the U.S.
It’s basic economics that if we as a society want less of something—for instance, smoking—we will impose a tax on it or restrict it by regulation, and consumption will fall. The opposite is also true: if we want more of something, deregulation and lower taxes will, by the operation of markets, lead to more of it.
The price, availability and quality of broadband follows the same rules. If we want more and faster broadband—and we do—then excessive and inappropriate regulation of broadband, such as some activists’ proposals for “Title II” common carrier regulation, is the wrong way to go. On top of all the legal and technological problems Title II would bring, we can confidently predict that it would sharply inhibit broadband investment.
A new paper from Christopher Yoo of Penn Law School’s Center for Technology Innovation and Competition takes a fresh look at the data and shows that the US is far ahead of Europe on virtually every relevant metric of broadband deployment. The reason, not surprisingly, is that the US regulates broadband lightly while European countries impose investment crippling wholesale unbundling requirements on broadband providers.
Res ipsa loquitur, the lawyers like to say, and Yoo says exactly that: “The data speak for themselves, and the empirical evidence confirms that the United States is performing much better than Europe in the high-speed broadband race[.]”
Look at the data from different angles (as CTIC’s interactive micro-site permits), and it tells the same story: access to next-generation networks (over 25 Mbps), the U.S. leads 82% to 54%; access to next-generation networks in rural areas, 48% to 12%; and LTE coverage, 86% to 27%. Unsurprisingly given these figures, the U.S. (meaning U.S. network operators) invests more than twice as much per household as Europe does—$562 vs. $244. Better service, with less packet loss in the U.S.. And entry-level broadband prices are lower here, too.
Why is the U.S. winning? It all comes down to fundamentally different models of regulation and the incentives each provides for investment: Europe relies on regulations that treat broadband as a public utility and foster competition among multiple leased access providers on incumbent provider platforms. New entrants lease incumbents’ facilities at wholesale cost (also known as unbundling). The U.S. regulatory light- touch has generally left buildout, maintenance, operation and modernization of Internet infrastructure to private companies and focuses on promoting facilities-based competition, in which new entrants are expected to construct their own networks.
The regulatory structure government chooses directly affects broadband availability, quality and price.
Focus on that investment statistic for a minute: there’s over twice as much investment per household in the U.S. as in Europe, which leads to more coverage.
We’ve already had a glimpse of what can happen if the U.S. government tries a different path, that of Title II regulation. When the FCC announced in 2010 that it was considering Title II reclassification of broadband as a possible approach to ensuring network neutrality, there was an immediate negative effect on the stock prices of the network operators who were deploying broadband across the country. On average, the market capitalization of the four largest ISPs in the United States lost a combined $18 billion and the market value of one of those entities dropped 15% overnight. The ability of these companies to acquire the financing necessary for aggressive broadband deployment diminishes as their value in the market declines. This was but one early sign of the kinds of problems that broadband providers will encounter in continuing their world leading broadband deployment performance if the FCC turns to Title II regulation.
So the light regulatory model of the U.S. brings greater adoption, more investment, and faster speeds, while due to the heavy-handed leased access regime on which Europe built its policies, the continent is now lagging far behind.
None of this is surprising to anyone who knows a bit of economics, but it’s a useful reminder as the FCC considers what sort of rules would best achieve our nation’s broadband goals. We can ill afford to neglect history and economics by imposing telephone-era, public utility regulation that will dampen investment at precisely the moment when carriers will have to undertake even greater expenditures to acquire spectrum in the upcoming incentive auction and then spend more to deploy facilities to bring wireless broadband to the entire US population at 4G levels. As Yoo writes, “we have a real-world basis for assessing the impact of imposing telephone-style regulation on the Internet[.] As regulators in the United States contemplate rules for next-generation networks, it would be wise to consider how going down the path of stiff telephone-era regulation has fared elsewhere.”
Because whatever happens in Brazil, the U.S. has already beaten Europe in the broadband competition for economic growth.
Monday, May 19
IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher recently sat down with fellow former Representative Jack Fields on C-SPAN’s The Communicators to talk about the 1996 Telecommunications Act (which both congressman were instrumental in crafting) and how to update for our current technological reality. You can watch the interview here.
Wednesday, May 07
In the upcoming incentive auction for wireless spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks to advance widespread deployment of mobile broadband in rural America with the infusion of additional 600 MHz “low” band spectrum into the wireless market.
What’s the best approach to achieving the goal of expanded rural service? Don’t restrict the auction by cutting out companies that currently serve rural America and want to expand their presence there.
FCC Chairman Wheeler kicked off a lively debate on this issue in his recent blog post maintaining that:
“The low-band spectrum we will auction is particularly valuable because it has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances at far less cost than spectrum above 1GHz. Today, however, two national carriers control the vast majority of that low-band spectrum. This disparity makes it difficult for rural consumers to have access to the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.”
While no disagreement exists on the need for more spectrum and the policy goal of expanding mobile broadband availability in rural America, the realities of today’s marketplace suggest an alternative view on the best way to bring affordable and ubiquitous mobile broadband services to more of America’s heartland.
Sprint and T-Mobile contend that that the success of the spectrum auction depends on the FCC’s ability to limit AT&T (T) and Verizon’s (VZ) future spectrum purchases. Yet, neither Sprint (S) nor T-Mobile (TMUS) has publicly committed to use any additional spectrum to serve rural America. Instead, a recent study by Dr. Anna Maria Kovacs reveals that these wireless entities have informed Wall Street that they would limit high-speed wireless broadband coverage to a population of only 250 million. For America’s rural consumers, their plan means far less broadband service coverage from Sprint and T-Mobile than what these companies offer to their existing voice service customers. In fact, it appears that their goal in utilizing new spectrum is to limit enhanced broadband service mainly to the nation’s urban centers.
If satisfying Wall Street’s demands for Sprint and T-Mobile to use newly acquired spectrum only to serve revenue-rich urban and suburban broadband customers is the nation’s primary goal, the FCC may be on the right track. On the other hand, if expanding mobile broadband deployment to rural Americans everywhere, from the mountains of western Virginia to the open ranges of the West, best serves the public interest, the FCC may want to choose a different path.
Unlike Sprint and T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have stressed that they will use additional spectrum to serve nearly a population of 300,000,000, bringing advanced mobile broadband services to less densely populated areas. In fact, these companies already serve large portions of rural America directly (not just through partners), offering the same competitive nationwide pricing and calling plans that they offer in the suburbs or cities.
Excluding certain companies from the auction in an attempt to engineer greater “competition” isn’t going to work. Modern broadband networks require significant capital investment to build out these new services to difficult-to-reach populations. The companies that are most likely to make that capital investment are the ones who currently serve rural America and have announced their intention to expand rural access with newly acquired spectrum.
Availability of high-speed mobile broadband depends on service providers that agree to actually deploy cell towers there—something both Sprint and T-Mobile have failed to commit to doing in the future. They seem perfectly content to focus their core efforts on areas where revenue per square mile will be highest. The “back 40” of Manhattan contains a lot more people, after all, than the back 40 of a ranch in New Mexico or Montana.
While these two foreign-owned entities are free to advance their business interests in Washington and Wall Street corridors, America’s rural customers depend on the FCC to separate fact from fiction and help deliver broadband to every corner of the nation.
Non-existent investment commitments and theories on managed competition are no basis to rig an auction. If we seek a real “pop” in high-speed mobile broadband use in rural America, let’s look at the population each company has agreed to serve. Our spectrum policies shouldn’t exclude from the auction the prospective bidders who have actually announced plans to serve more of America’s heartland.
Wednesday, April 16
As the FCC continues to design its upcoming incentive spectrum auction, 78 House Democrats have penned a letter — led by Congressmen John Barrow and Bennie G. Thompson — encouraging the Commission to maximize the benefits of the auction by ensuring they are open to all entities willing to bid. An excerpt from the letter:
For the auction to be a success, the Commission should maximize participation by both broadcasters incented to relinquish their spectrum rights and bidders seeking to buy those rights in the spectrum auction. In fact, inviting as many bidders as possible to compete in an open and fair auction on equal terms will allow for the full market price for spectrum to be realized and, in turn, lead to higher compensation to incent greater broadcaster participation resulting in more spectrum for the auction.
We agree with the position taken by the House Democrats. As our Honorary Chairman, former Congressman Rick Boucher, wrote in an op-ed for Light Reading last year:
In order to meet these multiple needs simultaneously, it’s essential that the auction be open to all financially qualified bidders. Some have suggested that the largest mobile carriers be restricted in their ability to participate fully in the auction in order to favor smaller carriers. Limiting the ability of the largest carriers to purchase the spectrum their customers are demanding will mean fewer services for consumers and lower auction proceeds, rendering very difficult the challenge of meeting all of the competing and urgent demands for the auction revenues.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that spectrum acquisition restrictions on the largest carriers would actually promote competition.
Monday, April 14
At the Washington Post, Cecilia Kang has an extensive profile of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. An excerpt:
“I’m not sitting here sucking eggs,” Wheeler said at his first public meeting in November, a warning shot of what was to come. “I’m looking seriously at these issues.”
Such candor has defied early assumptions about President Obama’s FCC pick. The former lobbyist was pegged by many as a lame-duck regulator, likely to lay low and stick to worker-bee issues.
Instead, the 68-year-old has eagerly grasped a national megaphone on the defining — and the utterly arcane — telecom policy issues of the day.
Kang’s full profile is worth checking out. And for an extensive look at the issues Wheeler’s FCC faces, read our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher’s op-ed from November for Bloomberg Government.
Tuesday, April 08
Miss our Internet Academy on the future of America’s telecommunications policy yesterday? We’ve got you covered.
Monday, April 07
Earlier today we held our latest Internet Academy, which featured former House Energy and Commerce Chairmen Rick Boucher and Jack Field discussing the past and future of America’s communications policies. We’ll have archive of the event up soon, but in the meantime, The Hill‘s Julian Hattern has a write-up. Check it out.
Wednesday, March 26
The last significant revision of the Communications Act occurred in 1996. Since then, innovation and competitive markets have dramatically altered the way consumers receive communications services. While the world of phones, computers, and the Internet has completely changed over the last 18 years, the nation’s telecommunications regulatory framework remains the same.
With the House Committee on Energy and Commerce seeking recommendations on how best to modernize the Communications Act, our next Internet Academy will feature two key architects of the 1996 Act, IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher and former House Energy and Commerce Chairman Jack Fields.
Boucher and Fields will discuss a wide range of policy issues, including:
• The pervasive and rapidly developing role of broadband networks in the delivery of modern communications, in contrast to the market landscape in 1996.
• How Current policy impacts broadband investment.
• The obstacles and opportunities facing lawmakers as they embark on modernizing the legal and regulatory framework that oversees the nation’s communications industry.
• Recommendations to help spur investment and innovation in America’s 21st Century digital economy.
Monday, March 10
In an op-ed for the Sun-Sentinel in Florida, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher breaks down what the FCC’s IP transition test trial for a community in Delray will mean for residents. An excerpt:
You may have heard by now that Kings Point in Delray is one of two communities in the country that soon may get a Federal Communications Commission -sponsored test of a new broadband communications network to replace today’s telephone network.
While some of us may have an idle phone bolted to the wall, that’s no longer the case for the majority of Americans. Two-thirds have fled the outdated, copper-wire network entirely. In fact, only five percent of American households still rely on it exclusively.
The old telephone network, first invented by Alexander Graham Bell, is wearing out. And as with most technology of yesteryear, it has severely limited functions and capabilities.
You can read Boucher’s full op-ed at the Sun-Sentinal.
Friday, February 28
From IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher:
Every month, 450,000 people make the transition from the old circuit-switched network to the new, IP-based world of telecommunications. Two-thirds of Americans have fled the old phone network entirely, and only five percent use it as their sole means of communication. It’s clear that consumers prefer newer products, services, and technologies in place of the old. Just as the telegraph once gave way to the telephone, and analog gave way to digital, so we stand at the threshold of another revolution in communication, as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone network gives way to the advanced IP broadband networks of tomorrow. In fact, by the end of this decade a sunset should occur for the antiquated circuit-switched telephone network.
As a key step in reaching that goal, in its filing today, AT&T has accepted the FCC’s call for the initiation of trials in select local markets where consumers will rapidly be transitioned from the old network to modern broadband communications platforms. The company in its filing underscored a thorough ongoing commitment to the core network values the Commission seeks to promote. Far from being a “regulation-free zone,” the future vision for an all-IP world is one in which communications services are accessible, secure, and reliable. Using the core values of universal service, consumer protection, public safety, reliability, and competition as its guidepost, the FCC can help speed investment in advanced networks that bring the benefits of high-speed broadband to everyone.
During the upcoming trials – to be held under the direct supervision of the FCC – government, consumers, and industry will all work together, in an open and transparent manner, to learn what can go wrong when the consumers who remain on the old telephone network are rapidly transitioned to modern broadband communications. With information from the trials, solutions can be put in place to ensure that the nationwide transition is a success for everyone. And at this stage and throughout the trials, the traditional phone network will remain in place, providing protections, a kind of safety net, for those who still depend on the old system for essential communications needs.
As we move forward, I’m confident that the IP networks and services to be tested will exceed both consumers’ and the FCC’s expectations for service, reliability, and consumer protection.
Wednesday, February 19
We’re excited to announce a new video series we’ve put together that we’re calling “Let’s Get Nerdy.” The goal is to take tech policy issues that are currently top of mind in our nation’s capital and explain how they are relevant to Americans across the map. With a series of questions, an expert will guide us through a deep-dive into the topic of the month.
For our first installment, we interviewed a lawmaking legend (who also happens to be our Honorary Chairman), former Congressman Rick Boucher. Congressman Boucher was a key participant in the construction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and here he answers three questions about a huge initiative being spearheaded by the House Energy & Commerce Committee to update the Telecommunications Act to reflect the technology of today.
Ready to get nerdy? Let’s go!
At the Silicon Flatirons conference, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler shared this excerpt from the book Digital Crossroads. “When, in 1996, Congress last enacted major revisions to the [Telecommunications] Act, it did not clearly foresee the rise of broadband Internet access services, let alone their eventual centrality to all forms of electronic communications.” What did the market look like in 1996, and how has it changed?
In a recent editorial for The Hill newspaper, you pointed out that most consumers — essentially, anyone who has a cellphone or who gets telephone service from a cable provider — have already made the switch to 21st century high-speed broadband networks without government action. What role can Congress and the FCC play to accelerate and complete the so-called IP (or Internet Protocol) Transition?
The IP Transition is fundamental to the mobile revolution of which we’re all a part. Consumers have proven that they have an insatiable thirst for wireless services that run on the limited, invisible airwaves known as spectrum. As it looks to update the Telecommunications Act, what can the House Energy & Commerce Committee do to help ensure that carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have the spectrum needed to keep up with consumer demand?
Our thanks to Congressman Boucher for sharing his unique perspective on regulatory modernization as a key architect of the ‘96 Telecommunications Act. Until next time, stay nerdy!
Tuesday, February 11
Any update to the Communications Act will take a while to make happen, especially since — as Julian Hattern for The Hill highlights today — the Senate is unlikely to get started soon:
The Senate won’t be following the House’s lead this year to overhaul the sweeping law regulating the TV, radio and other communications services, which has not been updated since the rapid growth of the Internet.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun to probe ways to bring the Communications Act into the 21st Century, but Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said on Tuesday that the Senate Commerce Committee, of which he is a member, probably won’t be following suit in 2014.
“I doubt we’ll do anything this year but I know that the House has been saying that they want to open that and certainly we’ll be seeing what they want to do,” said Pryor, chairman of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Communications, at a winter meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington.
Still, any step toward updating the relic of an Act is a positive one. As our own Rick Boucher — who played a major part in the last update of the Communications Act — wrote in a recent op-ed for Roll Call. As Boucher wrote:
Today, the FCC is both catching up and leading. It must catch up to the large majority of Americans who have made their own personal transition to smartphones, tablets and other devices that provide 24/7 connectivity to the Internet and its treasure trove of information and entertainment. At the same time, the agency also must lead by joining Congress in crafting an updated regulatory framework that supports continued innovation and network expansion and extending a helping hand to guide the minority of Americans who have not yet joined the digital world.
To complete the journey, Congress and the FCC must clear the road of outdated rules that made sense for the telephone monopoly era of the 20th century but which now slow the shift to the multitasking digital networks of the future. For example, the old rules require local phone companies to invest billions of dollars every year in the old voice telephone network that droves of Americans abandon every day. Every dollar spent on the aging, single-purpose analog phone system consumers are fleeing is one less dollar invested in multifunctional modern digital networks consumers prefer.