General

As Congress returns from its summer recess, one of the best things it can do to help get the economy moving is to encourage the FCC to move swiftly to speed the steps to upgrade and modernize the nation’s antiquated telephone network to make next-generation high speed broadband more widely available throughout the country.

The move toward these high-speed networks is inevitable, yet the question remains how and when it will happen — and what government can do to help smooth this transition and encourage the billions of dollars in private investment necessary to deploy next-generation networks across the country. In a rare piece of good news from Washington, there is increasing bipartisan agreement that the best way forward would be to hold market trials to quickly test how these modern networks can be deployed efficiently and effectively throughout the nation.

Given the complexity of rolling out new technologies, consumers and industry would both benefit from the type of FCC-supervised limited market trials that AT&T seeks to initiate. In a similar technology transition, from analog to digital television, for instance, the FCC conducted a successful market trial of its new digital television standard in Wilmington, North Carolina that served as a model for the country as a whole. 

Right now, the FCC is awaiting the confirmation of its new Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has called for this transition to be completed by 2016. So there is no time to waste. It’s good to see that in a recent Senate hearing, FCC Commissioners of both parties called for a quick start to the proposed market trials. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel endorsed “location-specific IP trials” to “kick-start” the IP transition and “take smart steps to foster the transition to next-generation networks.”

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai reiterated his support of “an all-IP pilot program” to show how companies can switch off the old networks as customers migrate to the newer, next-generation networks.

Anything complex like this involves a great number of technical and engineering challenges. That’s why Pai and others want to get the ball rolling now, so that the technical aspects of the transition may be addressed in geographically-limited areas first.

One important reason to get this process underway quickly is that, under the current system, telephone companies must support two very different networks — the copper wire networks of the past and the fast, next-generation broadband networks of the future. Every dollar spent supporting the legacy network is a dollar that cannot be spent building out new high-speed broadband networks. By modernizing these new networks, we will make even faster broadband available, creating thousands of new jobs and even entire new industries. And as Commissioner Pai notes, it would signal to telephone companies that they should shift from investing in the old networks and instead set their sights fully on building the networks of the future.

With demand for mobile broadband data expected to grow 13-fold over the next five years, as Commissioner Rosenworcel stated, there’s no time to lose. Let’s seize this emerging bipartisan consensus. The FCC should move quickly to allow America’s telephone companies to start market trials of new high-speed broadband networks of the future, to enhance job creation and provide all Americans the opportunity to access the benefits of the 21st century digital economy.