House hearing on IP transition draws defense of regulation

The subcommittee on communications of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday titled, The Evolution of Wired Communications Networks. Mostly, it was about the transition to an all-IP world.

Republican committee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) opened the hearing and took the opportunity to attack regulation of the telecommunication system. “The last thing we want to do,” he said, “is stifle the unprecedented growth and innovation of the Internet by subjecting it to co mplicated, outdated, government-imposed rules...”

But, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President-External And Legislative Affairs James Cicconi, seemed to disagree. He said in his testimony:

“This does not mean that a move to an all-IP world means moving into a regulation-free zone. We understand that there will be a set of core consumer protections that exist. While I might disagree with the FCC on particular matters, I would concede readily the FCC can play a strong role in protecting consumers, and it has demonstrated that in recent years.”

And, he said:

“If robust 911 service is a public policy imperative (and I think it is), then public policy should treat it as such, regardless of the underlying technology used to provide the service. The obligations should be provided uniformly, both as a matter of competitive fairness and simplicity for consumers”

Witness Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld told the committee that the U.S. has an enviable telephone system, and cautioned against a rush to simply deregulate it. “That can’t happen if we deregulate first and ask questions later, as some have urged. Laws and rules are means to an end, not ends in themselves,” he said.

Feld mentioned specific consumer protections:

“Do we want to get rid of the requirement that law enforcement must secure a warrant to listen to our calls, or do we think consumers will be happier with the NSA listening to IP-based calls but only getting metadata from traditional phone calls? Will consumers be happier with caller I.D. spoofing, cramming, and other anti-consumer practices post-transition so that we should eliminate the ability of the FCC or state agencies to protect them?”

Ranking Democratic Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) summed up the overall goals of a well-regulated telecom system:

“Changes in technology and infrastructure do not alter the national goals that have always guided our communications policies... Fundamentally, the FCC must ensure universal service to all Americans, rules of the road for competition, strong consumer protections and access to 911.”

CWA supports Six Public Interest Principles to guide telecom regulation, regardless of the technology. Regulation should: stimulate investment in high-speed networks; support quality jobs in the telecommunications industry; promote quality, affordable service to all Americans; ensure network reliability; promote public safety; and protect consumers.

The Evolution of Wired Communications Networks (House subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Oct. 23, 2013)

Testimony, Anna G. Eshoo (House subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Oct. 23, 2013)

CWA comments on FCC new technology trials (FCC documents, Jul. 8, 2013)