For the last century, the backbone of telecommunications systems in the United States and around the world has relied, to a substantial degree, on wired systems to complete calls, especially local calls and calls at the terminating end. In the last quarter century and decade, respectively, a growing percentage of this traffic has transitioned to wireless services and to broadband VoIP services and platforms.
At the same time, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of broadband services, both as an access mechanism to the Internet generally, and as the infrastructure for an advanced national telecommunications network, specifically. The recognition of this need led Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which directs the FCC to create a national broadband plan that would “ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and ... establish[es] benchmarks for meeting that goal.” The Recovery Act requires this plan to include “an analysis of the most effective and efficient mechanism for ensuring broadband access by all people of the United States” and “a detailed strategy for achieving affordability of such service and maximum utilization of broadband infrastructure and service by the public.”
In response to this directive, on Dec. 1, 2009, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comments as to whether it should issue a “Notice of Inquiry (NOI) relating to the appropriate policy framework to facilitate and respond to the market-led transition in technology and services, from the circuit switched PSTN system to an IP-based communications world.” Commenters were asked to identify “which policies and regulatory structures may facilitate, and which may hinder, the efficient migration to an all-IP world and “what aspects of traditional policy frameworks are important to consider, address, and possibly modify in an effort to protect the public interest in an all-IP world.”
Numerous major players filed comments in response to the FCC’s Public Notice. AT&T stated that it “strongly supports a Commission Notice of Inquiry regarding the transition from the circuit-switched legacy network to broadband and IP-based communications.” In offering its support for the NOI, AT&T argued that “with each passing day, more and more communications services migrate to broadband and IP-based services, leaving the public switched telephone network and plain-old telephone service as relics of a by-gone era. That transition creates substantial pressure on cornerstones of the regulatory framework that governs much of today’s communications, including in particular universal service and intercarrier compensation. But it also creates enormous opportunity.”
Needless to say, AT&T, like many of the incumbents with large legacy infrastructures, has a strong incentive to make the transition to broadband VoIP networks as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Thus, AT&T argued that “it makes no sense to require service providers to operate and maintain two distinct networks when technology and consumer preferences have made one of them increasingly obsolete” and thus that a key component of any national plan must be “the orderly transition away from, and retirement of, the PSTN.”