It could be the beginning of the end for copper telephone networks. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to conduct a series of voluntary experiments on how to best update existing legacy phone lines to a new IP-based system. The goal of the tests is to discover how the transition from TDM to IP will affect end users.
AT&T in particular has been vocal in urging the FCC to speed up the move to IP and will likely play a role in the tests. FCC chair Tom Wheeler has also indicated that he favors a move to IP sooner rather than later. He announced his support for the upcoming experiments in a statement back in November.
“Driven by developments in the marketplace, technology transitions in communications networks are already well underway,” the FCC stated in the order. “They include, for example, the transition from plain old telephone service delivered over copper lines to feature-rich voice service using Internet Protocols, delivered over coaxial cable, fiber, or wireless networks.”
Though the tests are voluntary and will cover various areas with different attributes, there are several rules that any new technology must follow. A key part of the order is that every American has access to affordable communication services, regardless of the form those services take. Carriers such as AT&T are currently held to the Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) rule that dates from 1913 and requires every U.S. household to have access to a phone line. The FCC also wants to maintain competition in the marketplace and make sure consumers are protected.
The deadline for proposals for the experiments is February 20 and the FCC will make a final decision of which ones to use in May.