FCC Votes To Launch IP Transition Trials

The FCC Thursday unanimously launched IP transition trials to test how the transition from circuit-switched to Internet-protocol delivered telecommunications will impact the core values of public safety, universal access, competition, and consumer protection.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the launch of those trials was a "very big deal." He said that companies want to shut off circuit-switched nets, but that requires the agency to make very important decisions that it should not take lightly.

Wheeler said consumers have come to expect certain things, and a right to expect those things, from their networks.

The trials will be voluntary, will insure that no consumer loses access to current services in the process, and will set a deadline of one year for launching the trials.

Wheeler said that they were not technical trials. "We know how to build an IP network," he said. Instead, they are trials of how that new technology impacts those four enduring values.

Wheeler put an exclamation point on "competition, competition, competition," saying it was key to preserve the relationships among the networks that supply it.

He also said that determining the impact of the transition on the disabled and health monitoring were key outputs.

"[B]y inviting a range of sandbox trials to assess how to migrate the networks we rely on today to the digital possibilities of tomorrow," said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "I think this is the right approach for the IP transition issues before this Commission."

"With real-world experience and hard data in hand, we will be much better positioned to make the broader transition to an all-IP future," said Commissioner Ajit Pai.

While the vote was unanimous, commissioner Michael O'Rielly did have some concerns about the tests, particularly that they might contain so many conditions that they discourage participation.

FCC acting general counsel Jon Sallet said the FCC was at the end of the beginning of its work on the IP transition. He said that the item was meant to tee up "quickly" the big policy and legal issues that need to be answered.

The FCC said the tests will gather info in the following three areas:

  • "Service-based experiments: Providers are invited to submit proposals to initiate tests of providing IP-based alternatives to existing services in discrete geographic areas or situations.  Proposals are due by Feb. 20, followed by a public comment and reply period ending on March 31, and final decision on the proposals made at the FCC’s May meeting."
  • "Targeted experiments and cooperative research:  These experiments will explore the impact on specific values, including universal access and competition.""Rural America: experiments will focus on ways to deliver robust broadband to rural areas""People with disabilities: development and funding of interagency research on IP-based technologies for people with disabilities""Telephone numbering in all-IP world: a numbering testbed will address concerns raised about number assignment and databases in an all-IP world, without disrupting current systems" 
  • "Data improvement:"Reform of the FCC’s consumer complaint and inquiry process to collect better data on how technological change is impacting consumer values""Intergovernmental collaboration (state, local and Tribal governments) to better understand consumer impact""Collection and analysis of data on next-generation 911 systems in coordination with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National 911 office and public safety associations."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.