Interestingly, just as the NTCA was holding its Legislative and Policy Conference in Washington, DC, AT&T announced that it was initiating an IP trial in Carbon Hill, Alabama. AT&T has informed the residents of the town of approximately 2,000 that they will be moved to the phone systems of the future. VoIP and wireless will be the only options for phone service. While ANPI sees no issue with AT&T’s shift towards an IP infrastructure, there are regulatory concerns that must be addressed. Unlike TDM or POTS, VoIP pricing and access is not regulated. This means that the larger carriers such as AT&T and Verizon can charge rates deemed as “commercially fair” or “competitive.” Obviously, this is causing a fair amount of uncertainty in the market, and carriers want the FCC to step in and develop rules that protect access to the last mile or interconnections with the larger ILECs.
Some in congress believe that the move to VoIP and wireless service does not require network infrastructure. This is because people believe that cellular traffic is transmitted tower to tower. They do not understand that the towers are connected to the landline infrastructure in order to terminate calls to either the PSTN or other cell phones. Following AT&T’s announcement, will come an increase in lobbying efforts for fair practices and pricing. However, consider the following amounts paid to lobby the government in 2013:
- $24.2M – NCTA (National Cable and Telecommunications Association)
- $23.6M – AT&T
- $22.0M – Comcast
- $14.1M – CTIA
- $0.89M – NTCA
- $0.15M – WTA
The two groups that represent rural America spent just over a million dollars, while those representing the larger carriers and service providers (including cable) spent in excess of $83 million. Clearly, this represents a significant challenge for the smaller ILECs and regional wireless carriers, but it also materially affects tier 2 carriers.
IP Communications is the best technology for delivering new services and applications, whether via broadband or wireless. And it should be noted that AT&T and Verizon have spent, and are planning to spend, billions to complete the transition from the older, more expensive, TDM network. AT&T plans to transition its entire 22-state network by 2020, and Verizon has already spent $23 billion over the last ten years to expand its fiber supported cable service, FiOS.
Lobbying the FCC is not an attempt to stop, or even delay, these efforts. We and others lobby to ensure that a level playing field is afforded to all who are competing to serve the communications and services needs of America. The applications go well beyond voice into areas of Unified Communications, video streaming, television, gaming and more. The changes to come are very exciting and should come without major increases in price or restrictions in choice.