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FCC: No Green Light to AT&T IP Test Beds

The FCC Friday issued a public notice setting up what it called "real world trials" of all-IP nets, though that is short of the green light AT&T was looking for when it proposed creating all-IP test markets to gauge the impact of the transition from traditional copper wire networks.

The FCC said it would entertain proposals for that more general trial, although AT&T probably thought that was what it was proposing in its petition six months ago.

Though all seemed to agree it was at least a step in the right direction, AT&T, joined by commissioner Ajit Pai, suggested the step was too tentative when bolder action was needed, while commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called it "smart" and "prudent."

The FCC's Technology Transition Policy Task Force issued the notice, saying it was seeking comment on several potential trials. As reported in B&C/Multi, those include next-generation 911, wired to wireless transitions and IP interconnection.

As to the general trials AT&T and others had backed involving all-IP wire centers, the FCC said that each trial it was proposing addressed some aspect of the AT&T proposal, but asked for comment on what other helpful data a geographic trial along AT&T's lines would elicit.

It invited carriers interested in such a trial to "submit a more detailed, comprehensive plan of how such a trial would work, including the design of the trial, the data that would be collected, the rules that would need to be waived and the role of the states and Tribes."

It advised that the info, at a minimum, should include "all of the services currently provided by the carrier in a designated wire center that the carrier would propose to phase out; estimates of current demand for those services; and what the replacement for those services would be, including current prices and terms and conditions under which the replacement services are offered."

The FCC also asked for comment on what other trials it might hold.

AT&T saw the FCC's move as a tentative step when a bold one appeared more in order.

"Today's public notice is a step forward, though we are disappointed the FCC still appears tentative about dealing with the IP transition, especially when compared with the bold and visionary goals of the National Broadband Plan," the company said in a statement. "Certainly, this notice might yield some interesting information, and we will of course cooperate fully with the FCC. We also intend to provide further detail on our proposed geographic trials as requested today, though we are puzzled it took the FCC six months to decide it needed such information."

AT&T said it continued to believe its proposed trial was the best way to go, and suggested the commission was kicking the can down the road to the detriment of the communications marketplace generally. "We also believe that further delays by the FCC in moving to such trials, which they themselves would control, creates more investment uncertainty."

Commissioner Pai, who had backed the AT&T IP test beds, shared its disappointment.

"Today's public notice is a missed opportunity. Rather than establish well-defined trials to test the Internet Protocol (IP) transition in a set of designated wire centers - what I have called an All-IP Pilot Program - the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force instead proposes several case studies to examine what market actors are already doing," he said, adding: "We can embrace the future by expediting the IP Transition. Or we can cling to the past by saddling next-generation networks with regulatory constructs from the 1880s. After today's public notice, I am more uncertain than ever which path we are taking."

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she supported the move. "Taking smart steps to foster a movement to the next generation of network infrastructure merits our attention, efforts, and support. Today's Public Notice is a prudent step forward," she said.

She focused on the next-generation 911 test, saying that public safety was paramount. "Especially in light of outages that may occur due to greater reliance on commercial power, any technological or network transition must, first and foremost, be judged by its ultimate impact on public safety and network resiliency," she said.