A change in the telephony sphere is undoubtedly upon us.

At this point, it’s no secret that traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) services are on their way out. Over the last year, both residential users and businesses have moved away from PSTN services and towards new options (mobile devices, VoIP, Cloud, UC, etc.). That being said, it seems as if traditional telephone networks are now in their twilight. Typically, IP-based services and networks offer users more for less; therefore, the choice for users to transition to IP-based networks is a pretty simple one. That being said, AT&T not only understands this, but longs to help facilitate this change.

Late last year, the provider released their petition for regulation-less trials concentrating on the transition from traditional networks to IP based networks. Shortly after doing so, the provider went even further by announcing their own plans for a $14 billion IP-based overhaul to upgrade 99% of existing wired and wireless networks through the end of 2015. While all this is well and good, one cannot help but ponder the fine print of the provider’s petition. AT&T stated the trials would assist in illustrating the “regulatory reforms needed to protect consumer interests and preserve private incentives to upgrade America’s broadband infrastructure.” Additionally, the provider claimed that regulation free trials would help show that “conventional public-utility-style regulation is no longer necessary or appropriate in the emerging all-IP ecosystem.” This seems to be a little disjointed.

On one hand, AT&T claims their trials would help better inform the FCC. Inversely, the provider does not want the agency (or their regulatory practices) directly involved. The reason? Time and Money.

AT&T has invested a lot of money in their announced $14 billion network upgrade. Regardless of this, they are still responsible for maintaining PSTNs; therefore, they are responsible for those additional expenses. That being said, AT&T may be in a rush to implement regulation-less trials to cut their costs and implement services/practices to maximize their profits. Without FCC regulation, AT&T could move more quickly and freely. Additionally, the faster the trials are performed, and information is presented to the FCC, the faster the transition to IP based networks will be—i.e. the less AT&T has to pay to sustain PSTN networks. As stated above, AT&T’s geographic trials would help preserve private interests; therefore, it seems these unregulated trials would be in the provider’s best financial interests as the provider would be free to operate according to their own code of ethics, NOT a uniformed conduct reinforced by a federal commission.

While this doesn’t mean AT&T’s intentions are purely malicious, it does present a plausible risk—one in which the FCC seems to recognize and account for. After six long months of indirect responses and speculation, the FCC has responded to AT&’s petition; however, instead of granting these regulation-free trials, the FCC called for more information. “We seek comment on several potential trials relating to the ongoing transitions from copper to fiber, from wireline to wireless, and from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to IP.” Simply put, the FCC issued a maybe. As opposed to giving AT&T the freedom to explore “next generation services” through trials without regulation, the agency has called for a more informative approach, stating, “The goal of any trials would be a factual record to help determine what policies are appropriate to promote investment and innovation while protecting consumers, promoting competition, and ensuring that emerging all-Internet Protocol (IP) networks remain resilient.” With this, the FCC will collect their own information as to ensure there is no bias—i.e. all interested parties’

Obliviously, AT&T was not thrilled, and responded by accusing the FCC of dragging their feet. While this point could be made, and it is made by AT&T’s senior Executive VP, Jim Cicconi, there might be something more at work. As stated above, AT&T has a big stake in transitioning quickly; therefore, their interest in implementing new networks may be a little biased—at least to some degree. This again doesn’t mean that AT&T’s motives are purely malicious. Regardless, the FCC is not budging. Instead of rushing through trials, the federal agency looks set on compiling more information and input on how these trials could affect everything including phone numbers, network access, and consumer protection.

While the FCC’s process is slower than AT&T hoped, it might be worth it for users in the long run. Though the FCC and AT&T don’t have the best histories with one another, it seems as though the FCC is genuinely interested in what is good for everyone—consumers and providers included.

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