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Senate Hearing Explores Issues Surrounding Wireline Communications

in IP Transition by

WASHINGTON, July 25, 2013 — The Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet held a hearing examining the implications of the transition to Internet Protocol for wireline communications on Thursday.

Several of the witnesses stressed the need for modernization, both in terms of regulations and technology.

Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge, stated that now would be an appropriate time to review and update old policies. Jeff Gardner, Chairman of the Board of Directors for USTelecom, recommended specifically addressing regulations on legacy telephone networks. He claimed that many of these regulations place constraints on service providers that inflate their costs and also limit the flexibility for consumers.

However, the panelists diverged on how regulators should approach the situation. Sohn laid out five fundamental principles that she believes the telecommunications industry should adhere to: service to all Americans, competition and interconnection, consumer protection, network reliability and public safety. She asserted that a free market would not necessarily guarantee these characteristics, so heavy regulation would be required to impose these values for the benefit of consumers.

In disputing this assertion, Larry Downes, internet industry analyst and author, compared the public switched telephone network (PSTN) with the internet. He noted that consumers are leaving the heavily-regulated PSTN and flocking to the relatively unregulated internet, demonstrating a need for a lighter regulatory touch for the future of wireline communication.

The witnesses also discussed the issues surrounding the transition from PSTN to IP networks. Downes suggested that the IP transition may boost internet adoption. Currently, 20 percent of Americans do not use the internet, and this group corresponds largely to those that still rely primarily on PSTN. The switched to an IP-based network is the first step to exposing these people to the benefits of the internet, Downes asserted.

Jerry James, CEO of Comptel, also discussed the importance of the last-mile connections that will be necessary under the IP transition. He stated that such access will be highly beneficial for competition, giving consumers greater freedom of choice.

However, Sohn cautioned the subcommittee to ensure that services are not downgraded and no communities are left behind in the transition. She cited the problems that occurred on Fire Island when Verizon Communications replaced its legacy networks that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy with its IP-based Voice Link product. Businesses were no longer able to run credit cards, and Life Alert services ceased to function, among other service problems.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, was also concerned about the ability of rural communities to make the transition. Due to regulatory uncertainty, service providers are hesitant to build new infrastructure. Consequently, she suggested a variant on the Connect America Fund that would focus specifically on small rural carriers so that they can continue to expand access in their areas.

Despite the changing field of telecommunications, James asserted that wireline is still a crucial component. He noted that many communications services still rely on it, and even wireless service depends on wireline running to a wireless tower.

Congressional Action on Telecommunications Act in Question at Broadband Breakfast Club

in Broadband Calendar/Broadband TV/FCC/Net Neutrality/Universal Service/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2011 – After 15 years of explosive growth and innovation in telecommunications since the last major revision, the 112th Congress is faced with the question of whether the law is keeping up with technology.  On Tuesday, our panelists discussed whether Congress should consider another overhaul of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and whether it is politically viable to do so at 2011′s first Broadband Breakfast Club.

The event is available on BroadbandBreakfast.com at the following link.

Panelists included:

  • Walter McCormick, President & CEO, USTelecom
  • Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA)
  • Jerry James, CEO, COMPTEL
  • Tom McMahon, Director, Communications and Government Relations, QWEST

The next Broadband Breakfast Club will be held on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, on “Competition in the Wireless Environment: How to Get More Handsets on More Networks.” Registration is available at http://ipbreakfast.eventbrite.com. The next Intellectual Property Broadband Breakfast Club will be held on February 8, 2011. Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

The Intellectual Property Breakfast Club is sponsored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), and the US Telecom Association.

For further information about sponsorship, contact sylvia@broadbandcensus.com, or call 646-262-4630. The Broadband Breakfast Club is Copyright © Broadband Census News LLC.

Industry Reactions to NTIA/RUS Broadband Meeting Generally Positive

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2009 – Despite a packed-to-capacity auditorium, long lines and occasionally unanswered questions, reactions to Tuesday’s unveiling of the Obama administration’s $7.2 billion stimulus program were generally very positive among attendees and industry observers.

An informal survey of attendees after the event generated generally enthusiastic responses to Tuesday’s program by attendees – but also several notes of caution.

Most were optimistic about the prospects that the broadband stimulus program would generate economic growth – and opportunities for their bottom lines. An additional theme in responses was pleasure at the Obama administration’s stated commitment to transparency.

The program was unveiled by Commerce Department Acting Chief of Staff Rick Wade, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps.

Comptel CEO Jerry James said he was pleased by the transparency showcased by the event, which accommodated numerous people in overflow rooms and was webcast over the Internet. The event was a “positive meeting,” presenting “good insight…with a diversity of interests,” he said. Jones called the process further advanced than he had expected.

Temple Strategies partner Joel Bernstein acknowledged that there were “lots of questions that needed to be answered. But he praised the “very measured responses” from the panel.

The panel included NTIA Senior Advisor Mark Seifert, tapped to head up administration of the agency’s broadband stimulus program; NTIA Associate Administrator Bernadette McGuire-Rivera; David Villano, Assistant Administrator for Telecommunications Programs, USDA Rural Development; and Scott Deutschman, Acting Senior Legal Advisor to Copps.

The NTIA said it was planning to issue grants for its $4.7 billion in three windows of time: between April and June 2009, between October and December 2009, and between April and June 2010. The RUS hasn’t determined when it will issue grants from among its pool of $2.5 billion, but it will also do so in three windows, said Villano.

The agencies involved have a “herculean task” ahead of them, said Bernstein. He praised the three-round approach to grant-making by allowing the agency to pick the “low-hanging fruit” first.

“I am optimistically pessimistic,” said Peter Tenhula, vice president of regulatory affairs at Shared Spectrum Company. The NTIA is “seeking a lot of comments, but there are a lot of unknowns, a lot to be determined.”

Tenhula said the process could go wrong if the agency “focuses to much on laying technology that is on the shelf now – and not future-proofing deployment” with next-generation wired and wireless services.

The agency officials were “not able to give any answers to most questions,” added Vince D’Onofrio, president of Radio Frontier, an Arlington, Va.-based consultant. “From my perspective, I believe the whole process is still subject to influence.”

“There is a long road ahead in defining the process,” added Tom Peters, a partner at the consultancy Wireless Strategy, which is based in McLean, Va. He referred to the fact that the program is requiring the government to distribute all funds by September 2009, and for all monies to be in the pipeline for spending within two years.

“Both of those concepts are admirable, but aggressive and bordering on unrealistic,” said Peters.

Dow Lohnes Government Strategies chairman Kenneth Salomon said that broad-bush criticisms of the meeting were incorrect. “I thought the meeting was quite informative” and substantive, he said.”

Salomon, once deputy chief counsel to NTIA, compared the broadband grants program to NTIA’s former Technology Opportunities Program (“TOP”).

“If you look at the [stimulus] statute…and the rules and procedures for the TOP program, you could get a running start on your application,” said Salomon The TOP process includes many of the same “key parts” in the stimulus grant application process, Salomon said, adding that McGuire-Rivera highlighted these facts in her presentation.

Salomon said that while NTIA will certainly meet its statutory obligations, he “wouldn’t be surprised if NTIA didn’t follow [the traditional rulemaking format] by looking for ways to speed up the process.”

- Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com, and Cody Williams, Special Correspondent, BroadbandCensus.com, contributed to this report.

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