The FCC today made a bold leap forward on the path to a modern 21st Century broadband world by agreeing to oversee industry-wide geographic trials. These trials will convert legacy Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) networks to an all-IP broadband architecture. While couched in the terms of telecom arcana, this decision is important and profound. All Americans should applaud the FCC’s action, because all Americans, and generations yet unborn, will benefit from it.
When we asked the FCC to oversee these trials almost 15 months ago, we were following the path charted by the FCC’s excellent National Broadband Plan, as well as the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council (then led by current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler). The team who authored the National Broadband Plan and the TAC both recognized that creating a path for incumbent providers to retire legacy POTS technology was a necessary step towards achieving universal broadband connectivity in the United States. In particular, both understood that the cost of maintaining the legacy architecture, with its rapidly declining subscriber base, was unsustainable for any company, and was pulling significant dollars away from broadband investment. That decline has only accelerated over the past fifteen months – AT&T’s consumer POTS access lines decreased from 15.7 to 12.4 million lines between 2012 and 2013, proving the truth of the FCC’s conclusions in stark numbers.
Beginning the process for achieving this transformation is overdue, and all of us should recognize the sense of urgency Chairman Wheeler and his team have brought to this issue. They quickly recognized and credited the leadership shown many months earlier by Commissioners Rosenworcel, Pai, and Clyburn, as well as the clear public support of Commissioner O’Rielly, to build a unanimous vote for moving forward. This is visionary both for its break with the past, its recognition of the future, and its unanimity in a time of partisan strife. Maybe I’ve been in this town too long, but once upon a time we all had a term for this. We called it leadership.
As we proceed with these trials, all of us in the industry, and all who depend on it, are challenged to show similar leadership. In that spirit, I want to reiterate AT&T’s support for the principles put forth by Public Knowledge, and by Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. We need to make this transition in a way that preserves universal service, competition (including interconnection), public safety, network reliability and consumer protection. Chairman Wheeler has referred to this process as a Values Trial, and has stressed that our new IP communications system should reflect these underlying values as we transition to newer and better technologies. We agree, and are committed to work with the Commission and all other stakeholders to ensure that we preserve those values throughout this transition. We’re now embarking on a task that’s of vital importance to our Nation. We have an obligation to do it right. And we will.