Every single one of these benefits is the result of deliberate policy choices that served specific basic values. Our phone network became the unparalleled success we know today because our policymakers valued five fundamental principles: 1) service to all Americans; 2) competition and interconnection; 3) consumer protection; 4) network reliability; and 5) public safety. n2 These values are no less relevant and, if anything, are even more important as we begin the transition to the next iteration of our nation's communications networks.
The transition of our phone network is happening now because there is already a business case for it. The fact that the carriers are already actively updating their networks now means we need not worry that our current rules are standing in the way of the transition, but this is still an appropriate time for policymakers to review and update the rules for new technologies and ensure our communications policy continues to put everyday Americans first. The technology we use to communicate may be changing, but our basic social goals and values remain the same.
The Transition To All-IP Is a Good Thing, But It Must Be Handled Responsibly
The transition to newer technologies in our communications network presents a tremendous opportunity for better service, new features, and more efficiencies that can be passed on to consumers. This does not, however, in any way lessen the public's need for continued consumer protection and competition policies that have made our communications network such a success for the past 100 years. For this reason, Public Knowledge fully supports the phone network transition. But we must make sure this transition is a step forward, not a step backward, for everyday Americans.
In addition to new opportunities, the phone network transition presents risks that the new networks will lack important features that consumers have counted on for decades. This means that policymakers at all levels of government must ensure that the transition is handled responsibly and everyday Americans are not left worse off during or after the transition.
When users' ability to call 9-1-1, conduct business, or reach loved ones is at stake, we cannot afford to permit carriers to engage in self-help. This summer we have already witnessed what happens when carriers replace their traditional networks with new technology without guidance from authorities.
The first step to preserving a communications network we can all depend on is establishing the basic values that will guide policymakers' approach to the transition going forward. We need a basic framework of values to evaluate the many proposals that have been put forward before federal, state, and local regulators regarding the phone network transition. After all, for policymakers to know how to respond to an idea they must first know what goals and values the idea is supposed to serve. In the case of the phone network transition, policymakers can guide the transition to IP by relying on the same fundamental principles that made our phone network the envy of the world.
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