America’s communications industry is evolving.
It is an evolution that goes by many names. Smart networks. Internet Protocol Networks. All-IP.
At its core, is a dramatic shift for America’s communications infrastructure. A major leap forward from the copper networks of the past to the digital communication of today and tomorrow.
This transition from copper to IP has been happening for a while, led by a society that is increasingly “cutting the cord” — dropping traditional landlines in favor of wireless, be it phone service or broadband.
Now things are speeding up. Recently, AT&T announced it will be investing more than $60 billion over three years to accelerate its transition to all-IP networks. This substantial investment is not without its hurdles. While more and more Americans are abandoning a reliance on the copper network, there are still millions of people — many of them in rural areas — who still depend on it for their communication needs.
It is important that the industry work hand-in-hand with the government to ensure no one is left behind as the transition happens. This is a message regulators need to listen to — not only because they share in the responsibility to keep Americans connected, but because of what the shift to all-IP will mean for the economy.
According to broadband association US Telecom, America’s telecommunications companies have invested close to $1.2 trillion since 1996. As recent announcements show, the transition to all-IP promises to unleash even more investment from the highly competitive telecommunications industry — investment that will translate into a substantial increase in jobs and overall economic growth.
Obviously, the government should continue to encourage this high level of investment from private industry. One way they can do so is through modernizing regulations.
As copper networks are increasingly losing relevance, so are the rules governing their operations. Today, companies must continue to invest heavily in their legacy networks even as customers are embracing newer technologies. Not only is this increasingly a waste of investment dollars, it also maintains an uneven playing field, one where certain companies are forced to divert investment dollars necessary to keep them competitive. It is not just the industry that is being held back. The same outdated regulations are also slowing the government’s own goal of connecting everyone in America to high-speed Internet.
The way we communicate changes quickly. Just five years ago, there was no iPhone. Mobile broadband was in its infancy. Tablet computing was almost non-existent. In order to keep up with innovation, the transition to all-IP networks needs to happen now. There is a path to make this transition go as smoothly as possible, one that ensures everyone remains both connected and able to participate in the digital revolution. However, it will take substantial cooperation from private industry and the government to make it happen.
The age of the Internet everywhere is at hand. We just need to ensure regulations from 1930s do not hold it back.
Joe Fuhr is a Professor of Economics at Widener University, a Senior Fellow at the American Consumer Institute, and one of our Broadband Ambassadors.