Saturday, March 27, 2010

Legacy telco regulatory concerns overblown as Internet replaces PSTN

The United States is moving from an era of the highly regulated, proprietary publicly switched telephone network (PSTN) to a new telecommunications paradigm in which the Internet is replacing the PSTN and the "plain old telephone service" (POTS) it delivered.

Both of America's biggest investor-owned telcos, AT&T and Verizon, have heralded the death of PSTN/POTS. Verizon is adopting Internet protocol-based next generation technology in its place. AT&T went so far as to declare its legacy, copper-based wireline infrastructure in a "death spiral" in a filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission just before last Christmas. That business, AT&T wrote, cannot be sustained as more and more residential customers drop their land line phone service for wireless PCS devices or use their Internet connections to make voice calls.

As the nation adopts this new Internet-based telecom infrastructure, the legacy carriers are worried that the FCC will attempt to overregulate it. Those concerns are overblown. There will be no need for increased regulation at a time when the telecom infrastructure is changing and alternative business models -- most notably locally owned open access fiber infrastructure -- are emerging.

Strict regulatory oversight is only needed in a monopolistic market. New business models such as municipal and cooperative-owned open access fiber networks dilute the monopolistic market power of the legacy carriers and thus the need for enhanced regulation. If enhanced regulation does come about, it will likely be aimed at penalizing legacy telcos that stand in the way of federal policy to expand advanced telecommunications infrastructure and Internet access with uncompetitive market practices.

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