Former Rep. Boucher: Govt. Should Set Sunset Date for PSTN

The House Energy & Commerce Committee this week will be assembling comments in response to its request for help in teeing up a rewrite of communications law in the face of technological changes like broadband deployment and resulting online content delivery. But former House Communications Subcommittee Chair Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was instrumental in the 1996 Telecom Act, has plenty of advice for his former colleagues according to IIA's comments, including sunsetting the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) by the end of this decade in favor of Internet protocol (IP)-based communications.

The FCC last week launched a proceeding to test various impacts of that IP transition on various core values like public safety and competition.

In comments released Monday, Boucher, now honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, said there is an urgent need for "deregulatory parity" among similarly situated ISPs, and that any legislation should take a "light touch" to broadband.

He also suggests restructuring the FCC in recognition of cross-platform competition for voice, video and data among stakeholder, including cable and wireless, as well as proposing to:

"Eliminate existing duplicative or unnecessary functions at the FCC, including its duplication of the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission’s role in reviewing communications merger transactions."

"Enable the near-term reallocation of significant swaths of government-held spectrum for commercial auction to help address the existing spectrum deficit facing commercial wireless carriers."

"Facilitate secondary market transactions among spectrum holders and encourage streamlined processes to enhance the efficiency of spectrum use as additional mechanisms to address the nation’s spectrum crisis."

In a report it released in October, IIA pointed out that only 5% of U.S. households rely solely on traditional home phones and that means the current regulatory framework is lagging the marketplace and siphoning off investment from new infrastructure.

Boucher has argued that the transition should not be a flash cut, but that the incumbent carriers should not be required to continue to pour money into legacy nets that carry so little traffic.

IIA is a broadband adoption and deployment advocacy group whose 175 members include AT&T and fiber-maker Corning.

John Eggerton

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.