Pai Urges Movement on an ‘All-IP Future’


FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has made news in radio circles for his interest in AM; but another interest is the transition of U.S. society to Internet protocol, a subject that happens to affect radio stations in numerous ways.

Thursday he gave a detailed speech to the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington in which he gave his views about the implications on the nation’s communication infrastructure. Among other things he called for the FCC to move forward with an “All-IP Pilot Program.” A few excerpts:

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is “showing its age. … As is often the case, the market has developed in a way that policymakers didn’t anticipate. In particular, they didn’t foresee the importance of convergence — of companies from different parts of the communications industry competing to provide the same service.”

“[T]oday only a third of U.S. households subscribe to plain old telephone service over the public-switched telephone network (PSTN), and that number is dropping each year. Yet the Communications Act still assumes that everyone gets plain old telephone service over the PSTN. And it doesn’t say clearly how IP-based services should be regulated, if at all.”

“How should IP-based services be classified under the Act? What’s the FCC’s authority to regulate these services? And if we do have authority, how should we exercise it? In short, what approach should we take to the IP transition? … No matter how we at the FCC answer these questions, make no mistake: Our transition to an all-IP future will happen. It is as inevitable as death, taxes, or another reality show starring a Kardashian. But what we do will have a dramatic impact on the speed and success of that transition. I see two paths in front of us. …”

“Looking at recent developments, I think the best way to describe the situation is this: The FCC has one foot planted on the First Path and another planted on the Second Path. But we can’t follow Yogi Berra’s advice for much longer. Berra, you might recall, famously said ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’ No, a time for choosing is upon us.”

“Right now, the most critical choice we face is whether to move forward with an All-IP Pilot Program. This program would allow forward-looking companies to choose a discrete set of wire centers where they could turn off their old TDM electronics and migrate consumers to an all-IP platform. Now, you may have noticed that when it comes to the IP transition, everyone has a prediction about what will or will not happen if carriers are allowed to provide services exclusively through an all-IP platform. But as we found out during yesterday’s ‘snowstorm’— what we Kansans call ‘weather’—predictions are no substitute for hard facts. Albert Einstein had it right: A ‘pretty experiment is in itself often more valuable than twenty formulae extracted from our minds.’”

“Moving forward with an All-IP Pilot Program would send a powerful message to the private sector … We would signal that we won’t force carriers to invest in old and new networks forever. We would move closer to the day when carriers will be able to focus exclusively on investing in the networks of tomorrow rather than maintaining the networks of yesterday.”

“As we go about implementing an All-IP Pilot Program, our other work on the IP transition should not and must not stop. … I continue to believe that the FCC’s work on the IP transition should be informed by certain core principles. As I outlined last July, those four principles are consumer protection, repeal of obsolete regulations, the ability to address market failures and fidelity to the law. If we follow these principles, we will establish a modern, deregulatory framework for the dynamic, competitive all-IP world.”

“[W]hen it comes to voice communication, today’s public-switched telephone network leaves much to be desired. … There’s actually a better standard, one that allows wideband audio. Wideband audio captures a much broader range of frequencies, making it a lot easier to hear someone over the phone. And it’s been around for more than 20 years. So why can’t we just snap our fingers and upgrade? Because the old standard is hard-wired into the system. We can’t change it so long as we rely on TDM infrastructure. This isn’t the case with IP networks. VoIP providers are already offering business customers high-quality voice services using wideband audio. And network providers are beginning to offer HD Voice, which combines the benefits of wideband audio with the smart filtering of background noise. With HD Voice, consumers can have conversations that are so clear it feels like they’re in the same room. And HD Voice isn’t some far-off technology; it’s happening now. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, for example, T-Mobile announced the launch of nationwide HD Voice for select handsets across its network. AT&T Wireless is promising HD Voice later this year. Over time, more and more people will have the ability to talk to one another in HD Voice—as long as they’re connected via IP, that is.”

Read the text (PDF).

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