CenturyLink Joins AT&T on Second Proposal for IP Transition

Last month, CenturyLink proposed to the Federal Communications Commission a service trial that will explore the transition from business TDM (time-division multiplexed) networks to IP infrastructure. The proposed trial, covering 12 wire centers in Las Vegas, also would examine the exchange of VoIP traffic between providers using so-called session initial protocol or SIP, according to the FCC filing. and its affiliates, Bandwidth and Inteliquent, are expected to join CenturyLink in the trial. Jeff Lanning, vice president of federal regulatory at CenturyLink, said the company would originate and terminate IP traffic with the CLECs.

CenturyLink noted its trial will complement consumer-focused proposals by AT&T, which is seeking to offer only wireless and IP services to new customers in a few parts of the Deep South and eventually upgrade traditional phone customers to an alternative technology.

For nearly 15 years, Americans have been cutting their subscriptions to traditional phone service, opting for alternative technologies such as wireless and Internet-based calling. CenturyLink told the FCC that it serves less than 30 percent of homes passed by its TDM network. Incumbent phone companies have lost more than half their access lines since 2000, according to CenturyLink.

America’s biggest phone companies such as AT&T and CenturyLink are preparing to eventually retire their legacy, copper-based networks, although they need the blessing of federal and state regulators. CenturyLink said it must maintain its entire TDM network, which can be a hassle when equipment breaks down in remote areas because finding replacement gear can be difficult.

“In the long run, we’re going to have to be an IP-based network,” Lanning said in a phone interview with Channel Partners. “There won’t be copper and TDM left. We’re not trying to accelerate that. [But] we obviously believe we should be largely deregulated in both spaces.”

“We are not doing this trial for the purposes of deregulation,” he added, “but of course our goal in the long run is to be treated the same as every other provider.”

CenturyLink, whose traditional network serves 37 states and was characterized by the company in the FCC filing as becoming “increasingly underutilized and obsolete,” reckons the transition from TDM to IP will take a decade or longer.

“Given the vast rural areas served by CenturyLink, its transition will likely progress at a slower rate than for a provider serving predominately urban and suburban areas,” the company wrote in the FCC filing announcing the proposal. “As this transition progresses and CenturyLink reaches a critical mass of VoIP customers in a geographic area, it will make sense to begin exchanging voice traffic with other providers through VoIP connectivity, rather than existing TDM interconnection arrangements.”

CenturyLink’s proposal would cover two phases. First, the company would recruit business customers to participate in the TDM to IP trial. Second, CenturyLink’s affiliate would exchange voice traffic that originates and terminates in IP format with Bandwidth and Inteliquent through commercially negotiated agreements.

“During the trial, CenturyLink will work closely with the CLECs to identify any technical, operational and logistic difficulties and work through them collaboratively,” CenturyLink stated in the FCC filing. “The CLECs will also have a chance to share their experiences with the Commission, as CenturyLink collects meaningful data regarding the commercially negotiated VoIP connectivity arrangements used in the trial.”

Commenting on the proposed trial, an Inteliquent senior vice president, John Harrington, said: “We believe the trial may help provide valuable information for the FCC about the exchange of traffic on an IP basis between CenturyLink and other carriers.  We are hopeful that the FCC will expeditiously approve CenturyLink’s request to begin the trial.”

The trial will not affect retail or wholesale customers who are not participating in it, and CenturyLink is not requesting a waiver of FCC rules, according to the FCC filing.

However, the company is seeking a declaratory ruling from the FCC that the trial will not impact its preexisting regulatory obligations or create new responsibilities. More specifically, CenturyLink is seeking a ruling that the “trial would not create an obligation for CenturyLink to enter into similar arrangements with other providers, either within or outside this trial, or impact any obligation CenturyLink has to negotiate in good faith in response to requests for IP-to-IP interconnection for the exchange of voice traffic.”

CenturyLink said its participation in the trial was contingent on the Commission clarifying its responsibilities.

The FCC is requesting comments on CenturyLink’s proposal. Comments are due by Dec. 22, and reply comments are due by Jan. 7. CompTel, a trade association representing the competitive telecom industry, had no immediate comment on the proposal.

Lanning said CenturyLink did not anticipate “significant opposition” to a proposal that he characterized as relatively straightforward.

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