FCC Chairman Wheeler: Transparency critical in IP, copper network transition

FCC Chairman Wheeler: Transparency critical in IP, copper network transition

August 6, 2015 | By Sean Buckley

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is not opposed to ILECs transitioning off their TDM networks and shutting down aging copper in lieu of fiber, but he said it should be done responsibly.

In a 3-2 vote, the FCC voted to approve a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will ensure consumers and businesses are not harmed as ILECs transition from legacy copper and TDM-based networks to IP-based networks.

Through their report and Order, the FCC said it is adopting rules protect consumers through the transitions from legacy copper networks to modern networks by adopting rules to ensure that consumers have options, and sufficient options as telcos shut down these facilities.

“Changing technology is not a rationale for stifling service or competition,” Wheeler said. “While I chuckle at the efforts of some to discover rate regulation hiding under this bed, the decision today is a simple matter: changing technology does not change responsibility.”

Wheeler added that “fiber brings great cost savings, great efficiencies and new opportunities for services for carriers, but it does bring opportunity to walk away from the responsibilities between those who build and those who use the facilities.”

Joining Wheeler in support of the new measure were commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, while commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly dissented.

Commissioner Clyburn said one of her chief concerns about the IP transition and the accompanying copper retirement process is that not enough has been done to educate consumers that the transition is happening. Unlike the analog to digital TV transition, Clyburn said the same has not been done for copper retirement and the IP transition.

“What was striking to me was the difference between these two transitions,” Clyburn said. “With the DTV transition, the government invested billions of dollars for consumer education campaigns that included radio, television, and newspaper notices and a subsidy for convertor boxes.”

Clyburn added that “there’s no outreach from Congress and no mandate to ensure they are prepared for the change in their telephone services, which is more critical than TV services because it could mean life or death if you can’t dial 911.”

But not everyone agrees the FCC’s proposal is the right path. In their dissent, Pai and O’Reilly argued that the NPRM will drive uncertainty for telcos trying to make new investments in IP and fiber technologies and services.

Pai said in his dissent that by enhancing the copper retirement process, the FCC will delay rather than encourage new fiber deployments.

“By dragging out the copper retirement process, the FCC is adopting regulations that deter rather than promote fiber deployment,” Pai said. “The order tacks on three months to the copper retirement process, slowing down fiber deployments and tells companies to spend more money maintaining the copper plant even when fiber can cure any failures of that fading infrastructure.”

Copper retirement and IP special access services transition have become thorny issues as of late, continuing to pit ILECs against competitive carriers.

Traditional ILECs such as AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon argue that being required to provide equivalently priced IP-based special access services that they provide over TDM today will impede their transition. CenturyLink and Verizon wrote in recent FCC filings that these rules should only apply to DS1 and DS3 services and not commercial services like Ethernet.

At the same time, these carriers also maintain that the requests by competitive providers like XO to ask for an extended period of notification of copper retirement will delay their deployment of fiber.

Given those issues, the FCC’s move drew mixed response from competitive providers and industry groups alike.

On one hand are competitive carriers like Sprint and XO, both of which have used ILEC facilities to deliver a mix of traditional voice and data services like Ethernet over Copper (EoC). XO has argued for a one-year transition and notice of any copper retirement, a proposal that Verizon said will delay their ability to expand its fiber network.

“Today’s ruling recognizes the transitions that are taking place in today’s networks,” said Chris Ancell, CEO of XO, in a statement. “This includes the significance of existing copper in incumbent and competitive networks that is relied upon to serve customers in combination with the existing and new fiber infrastructure built by all providers.”

Alternatively, Frank Simone, VP of federal regulatory for AT&T, said in a statement that the FCC’s action threatens to stifle the TDM to IP “transition by erecting new regulatory obstacles that serve to benefit not consumers, investment or competition but rather select companies.”

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