Six Principles for Telecom Regulation in an all-IP world

What is the appropriate regulatory framework for 21st century telecommunications – an environment characterized by multiple wired and wireless carriers competing to transmit digital bits of voice, video, and data?

The Federal Communications Commission – as well as state regulatory commissions – are grappling with this questions. At the FCC, the discussion has turned to the proposals set out in an AT&T petition. AT&T has asked the FCC to allow local trial runs to see what rules are necessary to facilitate the replacement of today's circuit switches (known as TDM, or time division multiplex switches) with IP softswitches.

This is not the first major technological transition in our communications networks – we’ve gone from electro-mechanical to digital switching for example – but it is the first to take place in a fully converged, competitive era. This raises particular challenges for regulators, but also opportunity to replace our siloed system of regulation with one that applies the same rules to all providers.  

CWA and Speed Matters feel that this important step must start from the vision articulated in the 1934 Communications Act (to provide “all the people of the United States...a rapid, efficient, Nationwide, and world wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges”) and the 1996 Telecommunications Act (“to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies.”). To that end, we’ve submitted our views to the FCC.

More than six years ago, CWA launched our Speed Matters campaign to promote the deployment of affordable, quality high-speed broadband networks to all Americans. Despite years of progress and development, the U.S. trails 32 other nations in the capacity and reach of our high-speed broadband networks.

High-speed broadband is no longer optional for any person or organization. Our policies must ensure that all households, businesses, schools, libraries, medical facilities, first responders, government agencies, and other community anchor institutions have affordable access to truly high-speed networks, regardless of geography, race, or income. Promoting job-creating investment in universal, affordable, high quality wired and wireless broadband is truly the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.

As the FCC considers a regulatory framework for an all-IP world, the statutory public interest goals of communications policy to ensure network reliability, public safety, universal affordable quality service, and job-creating investment remain as relevant as ever. Despite the claims by some that Internet communications are beyond the regulatory scope of government, we disagree. VoIP is a telecommunications service under the terms of the Communications Act, as amended, and state jurisdiction over voice communications does not evaporate with VoIP service.

Any regulatory regime should be guided by what we call the Six Public Interest Principles. These should guide Commission policies to:

1.     stimulate investment in high-speed networks

2.     support quality jobs in the telecommunications industry

3.     promote quality, affordable service to all Americans

4.     ensure network reliability

5.     promote public safety

6.     protect consumers

With the advent of a new technology, this is an opportunity to establish a level playing field for regulation, irrespective of technology used to deliver the service. While private capital will build the networks that will deliver high-speed service to every American, we cannot fulfill that goal without the guidance of a strong regulatory framework.

Read the full CWA letter to the FCC here.

In the Matter of AT&T Petition to Launch Proceeding Concerning the TDM-to-IP Transition (CWA letter to FCC, Mar. 5, 2013)