AT&T rang in the new year with a special request for the FCC to set a deadline to end landline voice networks. This was in response to the FCC asking for comments on how best to transition to a fully IP national network. AT&T’s response reminded me of the classic Danny DeVito movie “Other People’s Money.” You may recall the famous speech DeVito’s character makes to the shareholders of a cable and wire company he is looking to liquidate, calling it long dead. And why, he asks the shareholders? “…Fiber optics. New Technologies. Obsolescence.”
This was back in 1991 – about five years before most cable companies even began moving to hybrid fiber/co-axial lines. A more recent example of IP transition we all remember is the digital TV transition – first set for February 09 and then pushed to June 09 to help ease the conversion for some consumers who were not quite ready.
The move from circuit-switched lines to all IP-based networks is nearing completion for the same reasons mentioned by DeVito’s character in the movie. The carriers see greater revenue generating opportunities in this switch over and there is tremendous benefit for businesses and end users. When the copper-based circuit switched networks are no longer a burden to carriers, carriers will have more resources to focus on innovation resulting in more robust, competitive products for consumers. In addition, the ability to access multiple communications channels across one network – Internet, TV, phone – is huge. We help over 450 carriers do this for their customers today. For businesses, the integration of voice, data and video brings new meaning to the word efficiency.
It’s easy to see that the question is no longer if, but when, do we make this move. There are several sticking points including how to service areas where high-speed access is not yet available, how to get the 33% of Americans who have access but don’t subscribe to see the value, and the whole ongoing discussion around emergency access and security. All of these will need to be addressed by the forthcoming national broadband plan –now due out in mid-March after being pushed off a month from the original deadline. One possibility highlighted in this e-Week article looks at transitioning to new companies focused solely on maintaining the old PSTN, perhaps with public subsidies.
While these details are being ironed out, it’s time to start preparing a transition plan so that the switch over will be as painless as possible. Consumers who don’t yet see that VoIP is every bit as good as analog, or just don’t want all the additional benefits of IP may need a little prodding. For them some financial help like the digital TV refund subsidy might be in order. But the change is coming – let’s help the FCC deal with it in a thoughtful and orderly way.