At a high level, there are two fundamental ways to approach the regulation of the coming all-IP network that will replace the public switched telephone network.
The IP transition could simply substantially apply current framework, or regulators could try and create a new framework that accounts for the realities of the communications ecosystem as it has evolved; harmonizing disparate sets of rules for different technologies and incorporating the different ways third parties can create services and deliver them, without formal business relationships with the “access network.”
There are some important technological distinctions between IP networks and the legacy time division multiplexing network, one might argue. Most of the difference of true relevance for regulators is the separation of network access from applications.
For nearly all of its history, voice communications has been a service bundled organically with the network that delivered the service. In an IP world, that is not the case.
Consider only the matter of how third parties can innovate using the public Internet. To the extent that regulators want to foster both robust investment in the physical networks and a climate conducive to innovation and competition. They must grapple with an environment where most of the innovation now is created by third parties who have no direct and formal business relationships with any access provider.
In other words, third parties already have business access to their customers and end users, without formal contractual relationships with any network access providers.
So what is it that has to be regulated? Certainly not “voice.” By universal understanding, voice no longer will drive revenue for the global communications business. So it makes no sense to retain lots of regulatory overhead, all of which adds “cost” to a business that is not going to drive future innovation.
Also, by definition, lots of third parties already have shown the ability to create and operate large voice businesses running over the public Internet.
Perhaps the more important policy issues relate to fostering a robust investment environment for the core “access to the Internet”
Certainly there is much thinking to be done about balancing consumer protection and universal access concerns with the changed nature of supply. Once upon a time, there was but one way to supply “voice.”
These days, there are many ways to supply any media type, whether voice, video or data. Whatever the path forward, it makes little sense to simply keep the old rules.
Edited by Brooke Neuman