In 1996, the U.S. Congress anticipated the onset of technological convergence and set forth a new framework for telecommunications regulation. In 2004, however, technological convergence is no longer a future goal, but a current reality. In particular, consumers are increasingly relying on wireless connections to make telephone calls – with more wireless subscribers than wireline ones – and the opportunity to make telephone calls over the Internet (using Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology). Moreover, VoIP services promise to revolutionize the industry by making voice telephone calls independent of the underlying network, as users can plug their Internet phones into any broadband connection. Because of the migration in communications usage patterns, policymakers must now consider whether the decades old policies related to universal service and emergency services need to be revisited.
The array of questions related to setting universal service and E-911 policy in an age of convergence are dizzying. For starters, the 1996’s universal service regime only vaguely – if at all – anticipated the technological changes now taking place and the regulatory framework that governs the universal service fund is under great strain. Among other questions, policymakers must ask what services (i.e., broadband, wireless, etc.), should contribute to the fund, what services are eligible for subsidies – including whether it should expand to cover broadband – and what, if anything, should be done to support the incumbent wireline carriers, particularly in the heavily subsidized rural areas. On E-911 policy, there are also questions about who should pay to support an upgrade to our emergency services infrastructure as well as what such an upgrade should look like. Of late, policymakers have paid close attention to whether the well-developed emergency services that consumers rely on will work in the wireless and Internet telephony environments. As engineers can explain, those networks-which are not location-fixed-require new approaches to advance important social policy goals. In both the E-911 context and the universal service context, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still in the midst of responding to the changes in technology and in the marketplace. This conference will address these issues and will close with a keynote speech from FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.
Welcome and Overview
Universal Service Panel
- Michael Riordan
Professor, Columbia University
- Greg Sopkin
Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission
- Melissa Newman
Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs, Qwest Communications
- Kathleen Q. Abernathy
Executive Vice President, External Affairs, Frontier Communications