Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 31, 2014

The Connection-Cop Question for the Telephone IP Transition

Does the government need to require broadband providers in the next-generation phone system to ensure that calls go through?

That broad debate cropped up during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing this morning on what is known as the IP transition, or the process of switching copper-wire telephone infrastructure to a variety of technologies.

Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge said:

I think that we have seen some reports where there have been failures, like cases… rural call completion. And the lesson I take there is that even in situations where there may not be any bad actors, new technologies can create situations where nobody really has an incentive to absolutely guarantee that call goes through…

Griffin said the basic promise of the phone network is that calls will be completed and that the government should have the goal of ensuring that the promise is fulfilled.

Did Griffin think government could “absolutely guarantee” that every phone call goes through, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson asked:

Do you think government really has got a better capability as opposed to the broadband carriers themselves to provide excellent customer… let’s face it… if you have a company you’re providing a service, if it doesn’t work very often don’t you think customers are gonna switch to another company?

Wouldn’t competition better ensure this than the “heavy hand of government trying to guarantee that,” Johnson pressed, adding that he didn’t think government would.

When asked to respond, USTelecom’s senior vice president for law and policy, Jonathan Banks, said: “Interconnection is part of how the whole industry works, so completing calls is essential to any company being able to sell voice service.”

When you look at the wireless industry, where the government doesn’t get involved in telling companies “how to connect and not connect,” interconnection still happens in that free market, he said.

“There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t happen throughout the rest of the industry,” he said.

Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey, referring to a court decision earlier this year that struck down the bulk of the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules, later asked Griffin: “What implications on public safety does the D.C. Circuit’s net neutrality decision have for the transition to IP?”

Griffin said the decision had “tremendous implications” for the telephone network and the IP transition and made a pitch for reclassification of broadband Internet service as a utility:

One lesson that we can take from it is that if the FCC has put a service into the information service box in terms of its regulatory classifications the one thing it can’t do is make it act like the phone network. And that becomes a huge problem when the service we’re talking about is the phone network.

“If the FCC can’t require carriers to complete every call and make sure that we have complete reliability in the phone network, without reclassifying these services as Title II telecommunications services, then that’s what it needs to do to avail itself of the authority it has,” she said.

  • Shalom

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