In remarks delivered at the Hudson Institute today, Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai outlined two paths for the Internet Protocol (or IP) transition: One that clings to a legacy of heavily-regulated, monopoly communications networks and another that embraces the future being wrought by the competitive nature of IP communications. He noted that, while the FCC has thus far refused to choose one path or the other, consumers have overwhelming chosen the lightly regulated, competitive IP technologies of the future over the preference for monopoly the government chose in the past. Commissioner Pai has chosen to side with consumers by choosing the future – the path that protects consumers while making it clear that 20th Century economic regulation will not be imported into the IP-world.
To start down that path, Commissioner Pai formally proposed that the FCC move forward with a pilot program to test the transition to all-IP networks in a few markets. He noted the groundswell of support for the transition to all-IP networks from Americans across all political and demographic spectra. He also noted that the FCC has often relied on trial runs before embarking on nationwide transitions to new technologies, and specifically mentioned the value of pilot programs involving the DTV transition, rural healthcare, and educational broadband.
Given the broad consensus in favor of a pilot program to assist in the transition to all-IP networks and the past success of similar efforts, Commissioner Pai indicated that the only significant question the FCC must decide is how to structure the pilot. He proposed four guiding principles:
- First, participation in the pilot program should be voluntary.
- Second, tests should be conducted in locations that represent diverse geography and demographics.
- Third, residential customers with fixed telephone service today should continue to have voice service available to them on IP networks.
- Fourth and finally, we must be able to evaluate empirical data from the pilot program in order to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
These are sound principles that I expect the FCC, the industry, and the public will support.
It is critical that the FCC move quickly to implement the pilot program. Commissioner Pai said the FCC would need to seek comment on the rules governing the pilot through a notice of proposed rulemaking, which will take significant time. If the FCC intends to start a pilot program before the end of the year, it would need to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking soon. The clock is ticking, and better networks are waiting.