One of the most important goals of communications policy in
Interconnection and Competition
Interconnection and other competition policies lie at the heart of the development of a robust and competitive communications network. As we saw more than 100 years ago, without mandatory interconnection the phone network will slide inevitably toward monopoly as the largest carriers can gain anticompetitive advantages by withholding access to their customers from competitors. As carriers now move toward all-IP networks, policymakers must determine how they will ensure interconnection and competition among providers post-transition. These policies are critical to creating and maintaining a functioning interconnected network and a competitive market for communications services.
The duty to interconnect with other networks was first a means of enabling universal service in rural areas in the days of the old AT&T monopoly so rural cooperatives, municipalities, and local businesses brought service to places AT&T found too expensive to serve. Later, as amendments to the Act shifted national policy from regulated "natural monopoly" to encouraging competition among competing networks, interconnection became the sine qua non of fostering and developing competition. Unless we propose to return to the days of regulated natural monopoly, policymakers must absolutely guarantee that competing networks will continue to accept each other's traffic and terminate each other's calls in a manner that both preserves call quality throughout the country and actively promotes a robust and competitive environment.
In particular, subscribers to different networks must not find themselves with dropped calls or degraded quality of service due to "peering disputes" between carriers. If
It is not just idle speculation to imagine this happening in a post-transition PSTN. Already, some carriers are refusing to file IP-to-IP interconnection agreements at the state level. Without adequate interconnection requirements, consumers may find themselves suffering from interconnection disputes between carriers that provide not just their video and internet access, but their basic voice service as well. If the interconnections that have tied together our voice network unravel, dominant service providers will be able to leverage their customer bases against competitors and control increasingly large shares of the market, resulting in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
Interconnection and competition policy also require an examination of potential reform in call termination and access charges. Even now, rate-of-return carriers that serve rural areas have reported increasingly poor phone service quality and increasingly frequent customer complaints. This quality decay prevents small businesses from offering prompt service, threatens to hinder emergency calls to or from public safety officials, and thwarts customers' efforts to communicate with loved ones. These complaints should be taken as a warning of things to come if interconnection requirements are not adequately implemented and enforced in the post-transition PSTN.
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