Early this week at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, we expressed support for the concepts embodied in Public Knowledge’s 5 Principles for the IP transition. After reading Public Knowledge’s white paper issued today, I am even more convinced that Public Knowledge has laid out a common sense framework that can help to frame the discussion of how we navigate the inevitable transition from a circuit-switched Plain Old Telephone Service – POTS – communications system to the advanced capabilities offered by new Internet technologies.
There were several points in Public Knowledge’s white paper that we could have written ourselves at AT&T. First, the transition has to occur. Our old reliable TDM technology is obsolete and defined by two words: “Manufacturer discontinued.” Second, the fundamental principles of universal connectivity, consumer protection, reliability and public safety – all hallmarks of our Nation’s centuries old commitment to communications – should not be lost in this transition.
When we asked the FCC to begin this discussion in earnest almost nine months ago with our petition by commencing geographic trials to identify and solve any issues, questions and concerns arising from this transition, we were very clear that no one should be left behind. We stand behind that commitment and agree with Public Knowledge that as we make this transition, that must remain a core principle at the forefront of this discussion.
We already know that consumers are leading the way to new services, such as wireless and Internet-based communications via the choices they are making in the marketplace. More than 70% of households in the states where we operate a legacy POTs wireline network communicate with services other than POTs. We are approaching the point where half of the households in the country will be wireless-only (44% by the end of this year). And if you include services like Skype, there are already many times more Internet-based phone subscribers than subscribers to the traditional landline phone.
We know that the devil is in the details, of course, and that we will have a healthy debate with Public Knowledge and others on how we will go about achieving these goals. We firmly believe, for example, that policymakers and participants should draw heavily on the enormous successes and lessons from the creation of the worldwide Internet that will lead to a smart regulatory structure for 21st century communications, rather than a bolt-on of rules created for obsolete communications systems. But the important point on which both Public Knowledge and AT&T agree is that we need to begin that discussion now.
While much has and continues to be made about the communications difficulties wrought by the destruction of Hurricane Sandy last Fall (notably with respect to Fire Island in New York, but also to many barrier islands in New Jersey), it should serve as a reminder that time is something that should not be squandered lightly. We should begin this examination now, while we still have a TDM safety net in place. That safety net was a luxury denied by Hurricane Sandy to the citizens and businesses located in those affected communities. We shouldn’t waste this opportunity or the existence of that safety net anywhere else. So here’s a tip of the hat to Public Knowledge for a very thoughtful paper on the challenges that face us. Hopefully, we can get to work by commencing real geographic trials soon.