Plain old telephone service (POTS) might be on its last legs, but regulators must work to ensure that everyone still has access to communications services.
The Federal Communications Commission, under the leadership of new chairman Tom Wheeler, expects to approve a plan in January that would rewrite the legal, policy and technical issues that govern telephone services to make sure that operators complete the move to IP-based services.
It's a transition that's sure to spark some heated debate going forward. AT&T and other carriers have already petitioned the FCC to dive into the process governing the conversion, while consumer advocates and some public interest groups have expressed concern that the move to IP will cause the FCC to lose jurisdiction over operator services since, as it stands now, the regulatory body only has limited jurisdiction over the Internet. These public watchdogs want telephone service to remain "universal, accessible and reliable," the New York Times reported.
Yankee Group senior analyst Rich Karpinski says while the upgrade of physical infrastructure is an important part of the transition, much of the focus should be on universal service requirements.
"Between cost-saving cord-cutting and the ever-growing use of mobile services and devices – both for voice/messaging and data – more Americans are relying on less-regulated wireless services for the majority of their communications needs," Karpinski noted. "It is unlikely – and from an investment incentive perspective probably unwelcome – to impose such strict universal service requirements on mobile operators. Yet the FCC must balance the need to keep vital communications services available to all. The compromise required to make this a reality may be messy and hard-fought, but it's necessary for all parties to give a little – while keeping a primary focus on economic growth and technology innovation – to retain this important policy goal."
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