Wheeler Recuses Himself From AT&T IP Trials Decision

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday he is recusing himself from the AT&T IP transition trials decision.

Wheeler is a former board member at EarthLink, which has petitioned the FCC to participate in the AT&T trials. He pointed out that there is plenty of other IP transition work to be done, and that he will be involved in.

In an update on AT&T's proposal to test retirement of traditional circuit-switched service in two wire centers—in Alabama and Florida—FCC staffers said Friday at the June public meeting that the commission would employ a third party to insure no bias in the tests. They said that AT&T had agreed to work collaboratively with the commission.

The staffers reiterated that they thought the tests would provide valuable information, and said AT&T's proposal eventually to hold a wholesale service transition test could also be helpful.

The FCC has approved a framework for the AT&T tests, but has not provided final approval, which will depend on answers to a variety of questions, like how it will support legacy services like 911, health monitoring, credit card processing, and fax services with the new fiber and wireless replacement services.

Also a point of concern is how the replacement services will support Government Emergency Telecommunications Services (GETS), which allows public safety calls to get through when others can't.

The FCC also said affordability questions were raised by AT&T's desire to migrate some DSL broadband service to wireless given that the latter has meaningfully higher advertised prices and lower data use allowances than DSL.

Commissioner Ajit Pai emphasized that trials was not the new quid pro quo for transitioning to IP, and that the FCC's copper retirement rules, meant to speed that transition, were still in play. He pointed out that noone would be forced to conduct a trial and said trials should not be used as an excuse to delay the transition.

Wheeler said that the key outputs from the tests are the impacts of the transition on the public, rather than about the technology being used. He also said the FCC would make the data collected in the trials as widely available as possible.

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.