The Mixed Blessing of a Deregulatory Endpoint for the Public Switched Telephone Network
40 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2012
Date Written: March 12, 2012
Receiving authority to dismantle the wireline public switched telephone network (“PSTN”) will deliver a mixture of financial benefits and costs to incumbent carriers. Even if these carriers continue to provide basic telephone services via wireless facilities, they will benefit from substantial relaxation of common carriage duties, no longer having to serve as the carrier of last resort and having the opportunity to decide whether and where to provide service. On the other hand, incumbent carriers may have underestimated the substantial financial and marketplace advantages they also will likely lose in the deregulatory process.
This paper will identify the potential problems resulting from prospective decisions by National Regulatory Authorities (“NRAs”), such as the United States Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), to grant authority for telecommunications service providers to discontinue PSTN services. The paper also will consider whether in the absence of common carrier duties, carriers providing telephone services, including Voice over the Internet Protocol (“VoIP”), voluntarily will agree to interconnect their networks. The paper will examine Internet peering and other types of network interconnection with an eye toward assessing whether a largely unregulated marketplace can ensure ubiquitous access to PSTN replacement services. The paper concludes that private carrier interconnection models and information service regulatory oversight may not solve all disputes, or foreclose price discrimination for functionally the same type of service. Recent Internet interconnection and television program carriage disputes involving major players such as Comcast, Level3, Fox and Cablevision, point to the possibility of increasingly contentious negotiations that could result in balkanized telecommunications networks with reversed or reduced progress in achieving universal service goals. The paper also concludes that rural access to VoIP and other voice communications services could end up costing significantly more than what urban residents pay, an efficient, but politically risky outcome.
Keywords: common carriage, public switched telephone network, regulatory reform, deregulation, information service, telecommunication service, peering, interconnection
JEL Classification: K23, L86, L96, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation