For example, the FCC's current interconnection rules are based on geography and no longer make sense, said Jonathan Banks, senior vice president for law and policy at trade group USTelecom. There are "lots of different providers of Internet backbone," making old interconnection rules unnecessary, he said.
A lot of the current telecom regulations are "technology anachronistic," added Larry Downes, a tech policy-focused author and former tech law professor. The old rules were "designed in every sense for the public switched network," he said in an email. "Despite decades of accretions and barnacles, at the core of their DNA they assume both a technical and business environment that no longer exists and definitely isn't part of the all-IP world."
Downes also pointed to old interconnection rules as one area the FCC should scrap in a move to IP networks. "Interconnection is inherently about switched network technology," he said. "In the IP world, the relevant engineering is handled through peering."
Netflix has recently complained to the FCC about peering agreements, and cut a deal with Comcast. But voice interconnection rules don't make sense when voice is just another packet on the network, Downes said.
A VoIP (voice-over-Internet Protocol) network shouldn't be subject to any more provider "mishandling" than other services, Downes added. "That makes sense to any engineer, but it's a hard reality for regulators to swallow," he said. "At the heart of this conversation is an implicit reality that in the all-IP world there is simply less of a need for close scrutiny by, and prophylactic rules from, federal and state regulators, particularly rules put in place at a time when there was only one network, operated by one carrier, which handled all (and only) voice traffic."
AT&T asks for deregulation
For their part, AT&T executives generally say that customers should expect some level of consumer protections in the transition to IP networks. The net neutrality ruling gives the FCC "a lot of flexibility" to proceed with the transition and protect consumers, Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, said during a February debate on the transition.
"There's no doubt in the world that the FCC has the ability, they have jurisdiction over [IP-based] information services," Quinn said then. The court decision "gives the FCC enormous leeway to make sure that we can effectuate this transition, that the values that we come to expect from ... POTS service are going to continue."
But the company, in its November 2012 petition asking the FCC to approve IP network trials, called for a range of deregulatory moves in the transition to IP networks. AT&T called for the commission to end its rules requiring carriers to get permission to discontinue service to communities, saying the rule doesn't make sense when the carrier is switching to IP services.
Another set of rules that should be scrapped are service-obligation rules from the FCC and state public service commissions, AT&T said, because some of those regulations prohibit incumbent carriers from retiring the copper networks. The FCC should scrap its compulsory service rules in exchange for voluntary service commitments from carriers that want universal service subsidies, AT&T said.
The copper-to-IP "revolution necessitates an equally fundamental transformation of the legacy regulatory framework," AT&T's lawyers wrote in a later FCC filing. "Today's rules were designed for a voice-centric world in which [incumbent carrier] ILECs owned 99 percent of access lines, and there is no rational basis for sustaining them in a world where ILECs have rapidly declining minority market shares and voice is becoming just one applications among many riding over converged, data-centric networks."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.