Op-eds

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 Two-thirds have fled the outdated, copper-wire network entirely.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.

But questions still swirl: Is it really necessary to move away from the telephone network? Who benefits? What does this mean for consumers? Well, here are a few answers.

Every dollar spent to maintain a network Americans are fleeing is a dollar unavailable to invest in modern broadband networks consumers prefer. With broadband networks, telephone service is just the beginning; consumers can connect more quickly to all the Internet has to offer — video, voice, email, text and a vast array of inventive applications.

The FCC is now looking at retiring the old telephone network by the end of this decade, enabling all consumers to make the switch to broadband — but the transition to all high-speed networks will not be regulation-free. Consumer groups, the FCC and industry are all working together to assure the protections they have long enjoyed on the old telephone network will be maintained. What core consumer values will guide the transition? Take a look:

Leaving no one behind. Universal connectivity will remain our national goal. Everyone, including seniors, should receive a service after the transition at least as good as the service they have now, regardless of the technology used.

Maintaining priority access to public safety and first responders. Consumers must continue to have access to 911 services when they need them. Emergency services must know where a caller is located.

Requiring emergency backup power for modern broadband networks. High-speed broadband networks should have levels of resiliency comparable to the older network’s reliability and security when the power goes out.

Keeping key consumer protections in place. Consumers should have a place to bring any complaints, with a prospect of rapid resolution. Billing errors should be corrected, and existing prohibitions against “slamming” and “cramming” on consumers’ bills should remain intact. Consumers should also be able to keep their telephone numbers if they switch providers on new broadband networks.

Requiring consumer education. Telephone companies should be required to educate customers about this next-generation technology as well as any differences in the terms or conditions of their new service as compared to their old service.

Continuing services for special populations.  Protections to guarantee access for persons with disabilities, including the vision and hearing impaired, should continue.  Protections should also exist for vulnerable populations, including the elderly, low-income populations, and residents of Tribal lands.

Enhancing competition. Broadband service providers will compete for both wired and wireless consumers, just as now.

With these core principles as guiding lights, the FCC can ensure the success of pilot transition projects in markets like Kings Point.  Through the demonstrations, policymakers will have an opportunity to find out what — if anything—can go wrong as remaining users on the outdated network are transitioned to modern networks. The gathered knowledge on best practices and remedies for observed problems will pave the way for a smooth move, nationwide.

To most consumers, phones today mean so much more than just voice. The upgrade to next-generation broadband will free phone companies to direct their investment to modern networks that expand the possibilities. With regulations that ensure consumer protections and a careful plan in place, the FCC is sure to help everyone get these new 21st century services. Get ready, Kings Point.

Originally published at Sun Sentinel