As part of its process of seeking public input ahead of a #CommActUpdate, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has released a white paper focused on the interconnection of telecommunications networks. The white paper seeks comment on the regulatory framework surrounding network interconnection and peering agreements and the role of government in regulating these agreements. Interested parties are invited to respond to the questions posed by the white paper and offer comment on any aspect of interconnection policy by August 8, 2014, to email@example.com.
The white paper notes that the regulatory regimes governing interconnection currently vary among platforms and technologies. Thus:
- Traditional public-switched telephone network carriers are governed by Title II of the Communications Act. Thus, while “some traditional carriers may negotiate interconnection agreements freely,” ILECs “must do so under the knowledge that a state regulator may step in to regulate the rates notwithstanding the commercial agreement.”
- Wireless networks interconnect via commercial agreements, with only limited mandates regarding voice and data traffic carriage outside of a carrier’s network.
- Most voice interconnection occurs using traditional Time Data Multiplexing (TDM) rather than Internet Protocol (IP). This requires the conversion of VoIP traffic and often the use of legacy networks for transport
According to the white paper, “[a]s voice service evolves from traditional telephone technologies to embrace IP and applications over IP networks demand increasingly larger shares of network resources, the regulation of network interconnection is again in question. At the core of interconnection policy are the questions of who is responsible for ensuring smooth, end-to-end delivery of traffic, what is needed to ensure quality of service, and how our legal and regulatory framework can foster high quality networks and services. As the committee considers updates to the Communications Act, informed discussion of the questions below will aid members in their decision-making.”
The questions posed for comment are as follows:
1. In light of the changes in technology and the voice traffic market, what role should Congress and the FCC play in the oversight of interconnection? Is there a role for states?
2. Voice is rapidly becoming an application that transits a variety of network data platforms. How should intermodal competition factor into interconnection mandates? Does voice still require a separate interconnection regime?
3. How does the evolution of emergency communications beyond the use of traditional voice service impact interconnection mandates?
4. Ensuring rural call completion has always been a challenge because of the traditionally high access charges for terminating calls to high-cost networks. Does IP interconnection alleviate or exacerbate existing rural call completion challenges?
5. Should we analyze interconnection policy differently for best-efforts services and managed services where quality-of-service is a desired feature? If so, what should be the differences in policy between these regimes, and how should communications services be categorized?
6. Much of the committee’s focus in the #CommActUpdate process has been on technology-neutral solutions. Is a technology-neutral solution to interconnection appropriate and effective to ensure the delivery and exchange of traffic?
7. Wireless and Internet providers have long voluntarily interconnected without regulatory intervention. Is this regime adequate to ensure consumer benefit in an all-IP world?
8. Is contract law sufficient to manage interconnection agreements between networks? Is there a less onerous regulatory backstop or regime that could achieve the goals of section 251?
The Committee began issuing #CommActUpdate white papers in January
2014. Previous white papers addressed Modernizing the Communications Act, Modernizing U.S. Spectrum Policy, and Competition Policy and the Role of the Federal Communications Commission