The FCC is seeking advice on how to light a fire under traditional voice carriers in order to speed up their transition from circuit switching to IP networks.
In calling for comments on how best to make the change efficiently, the commission is looking for suggestions on what areas it ought to consider in more formal proceedings down the road.
It already has a few areas in mind, such as how to insure phone service to everyone who wants it, even those for whom it is a money-losing proposition for the carriers to deliver services. It also is concerned about providing services for the blind and deaf during the transition from circuit switching to IP.
In its notice about taking comments, the FCC notes that this transition is already underway driven by market forces, but the commission wants to set up policies it can follow in order to make the transition more effective. The comments will help determine what policy questions the commission considers as a way to plan and monitor the circuit switched-IP changeover.
The FCC draws its authority to step into this ongoing transition from a congressional directive that say it has to come up with a national broadband plan by next February. The commission is supposed to create mechanisms to insure that everyone has access to affordable broadband services delivered over an efficiently utilized network.
Transitioning to IP is already underway as exemplified by the advent of cable providers selling telephony over their networks and traditional phone carriers such as Verizon installing fiber to homes and installing Ethernet gateways inside to deliver phone services as well as TV programming and Internet access.
This FCC inquiry will likely overlap with its formal proceeding on network neutrality that seeks to regulate whether and how much Internet service providers can limit applications and devices customers use over their Internet connections, and to what extent they can charge more for premium services.
Since VoIP can run over generic Internet connections, there is a blurring between voice service and Internet service that the commission may want to address. The input about circuit switching-to-IP migration may help shape those net neutrality decisions.
This could have implications for services such as Skype and Google Voice that are voice services but that don't require the providers to own or even pay for their network infrastructure. Their traffic rides over the Internet as provided by carriers that own the underlying infrastructure. Customers pay their ISP for Internet access and Skype and Google Voice run over those connections.
Historically, the FCC has blocked ISPs from throttling back on bandwidth or blocking this type of VoIP, but this could get another look during the newly announced comment period.