So the FCC punted again, asking for further comments on AT&T’s November proposal to begin to ‘sunset’ the PSTN via geographic trials free of regulation. AT&T wasn’t happy, with Jim Cicconi writing “We are puzzled it took the FCC six months to decide it needed such information.” Really? The FCC dithering and asking for comments when faced with an actual decision is puzzling? I’ll bet he didn’t actually write that with a straight face.
So now the baton gets passed to Wheeler, and it’s a tough one. It comes down to a basic quandary. Everyone knows that the PSTN as we know it must end. Technology has passed it by. We need to move toward whatever will replace it, and that the incumbent providers are still a dominant part of that. But if we unleash the power of incumbency to get it done, the fear is that it will get done in the image of unleashed incumbency.
Yet we simply don’t have an alternative regulatory regime in the IP world that is even remotely prepared to replace the archaic regulatory framework that is now such an integral part of the PSTN. Even within the limited framework of interconnection the IP world has a mishmash of ad-hoc interconnection infrastructures, like peering and Ethernet NNIs and such, whose rules are not entirely unlike the pirate code a la Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Carribean.
Paraphrasing, liberally… First, any new technologies that arise don’t have rules and thus are not part of the code and must be unregulated. Second, you have to be a Tier 1 pirate for the code to apply and if you’re not then too bad. And third, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl!
The various activists have spent so much effort over so many decades to reign in Ma Bell, it’s children, and their fewer yet much larger grandchildren and they have seen the rise of the internet as the great equalizer in so many parts of the economy. Is it any wonder their cappuccino goes down the wrong pipe when they hear AT&T asking if it can have free reign to chisel out a new fortress to defend?
Because that’s what tech corporations do to create reliable revenue streams, telecom or not. They build an earnings fortress with a moat and defend it against all comers. That is, they defend it until someone invents a cannon that can breach its walls, whereupon they sell it to some sucker and fall back to the new fortress they’ve hopefully built in time. But I digress.
Yet the activists have no alternative in hand, and there is no consensus upon which to build one. How could there be? The truth is that fiber won’t go everywhere, and that a hybrid fiber/wireless system must begin to take over before the copper systems become prohibitive to maintain. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to let them try it and we simply won’t be sure ahead of time that it won’t go off the rails.
But giving AT&T and friends the regulatory go ahead here doesn’t have to meangiving them free reign. Rather than depending on the bureaucrats to police things, those worried about AT&T’s motives had best mobilize the public. Not to oppose, but to watch & be vocal about what doesn’t work. In an era of social networks, regulatory oversight is actually far less powerful than actual popular oversight.