January 6, 2010 11:27 PM

A Good Question, A Direct Answer, and . . . Mayhem Ensues

Confusing, huh?  Sounds like a movie idea . . . for a really bad movie; but that's what happened recently with an AT&T filing in response to the 25th Public Notice in the National Broadband Plan proceeding.  The Commission asked for public comments on a very important, and very forward-thinking topic: how should the Commission plan for the inexorable obsolescence of the Public Switched Telephone Network ("PSTN").  

The simple fact of the matter is that, due to broadband availability and adoption patterns, increasing availability of mobile VoIP apps, and (morbidly) the dying off of PSTN customers--and the fact that younger customers, with broadband access, are opting for VoIP solutions.  Fortunately, the Commission acted on its own data, and recognized that the costs of the PSTN are being born by a smaller, and smaller group of consumers all the time, and the consumers that lack VoIP as an alternative (because they have not adopted broadband) are those least able to afford these increasing costs--the less-educated, the poor, the elderly, and minorities.  (See, p. 82). The Commission is to be applauded for recognizing a trend, and trying to plan in advance in order to avoid a potentially disastrous crisis in advance.

Among those filing comments in this proceeding, AT&T recognized the problem was as grave as the Commission suspected, and they responded to the Commission's request for comments with all the gravity with which the Commission solicited the comments.  Critics may call AT&T's comments melodramatic, but, judging from the attention they received (even if it was misplaced), I'd say AT&T did a good job of calling public attention to the Commission's very timely concern.  AT&T's policy blog explains their position a lot more succinctly than I could, and the posts contain good links to AT&T's actual comments.  If readers are interested, I would strongly encourage them to read these two posts--the first, and the second.

Bottom line: AT&T isn't seeking to turn off the PSTN, so there's no need for panic.  Hysteria isn't good, but (this time) it can have a good outcome if it brings more awareness to an urgent problem--the need for the Commission to reform USF contributions and distributions, and Intercarrier Compensation Reform, before the network becomes a network for broadband "haves, and have-nots."

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