IP Networks in an Unregulated Setting

By: Stephen Jones, Ph.D. and Breanna Parker


From emergency services to simple phone connections and digital reliability, the issues surrounding the Internet Protocol (IP) transition are numerous and broad. The FCC already has begun trials to determine what this transition can offer and what the impacts of it will be; and many are concerned about what the effects will be on the consumer. Those expressing such concern range from policymakers and regulators to industry leaders, activist organizations and consumers themselves. Each of these groups has a different opinion; some based on facts and some ill-informed.

The technology, infrastructure, and reliability of IP services are not in doubt, as they have been tested and tried through existing applications on the Internet and elsewhere.. One continuing issue is how it should be regulated, or if it should be regulated at all. The largely deregulated Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service is one area still up for regulatory and legislative discussion. Many worry that some regulatory options might increase the cost for VoIP phone service, diminish the consumer protection for users and perhaps put fair competition at risk. However, the benefits of VoIP and other IP technologies would seem to far outweigh some of those risks, as it would open up innovation and give IP systems the opportunity to grow and advance.

Historically, when we have removed the barriers for information and communication technologies (ICT) across our domestic networks, we have created the opportunity for innovation, resulting in emerging technologies and new economic engines. Forty years ago, the voice and data services of the country belonged only to the oligopoly of a few giant companies. Today, as the result of deregulation and limited government intervention, the ICT industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, with ICT positions now among the top-ten most needed skills in the labor market today.

Another issue surfacing concerns the consequences of having IP communications deregulated in some states but having a patchwork of state regulation elsewhere. More and more states have seen the value in deregulated IP services and have enacted legislation to ensure reliable services to consumers and the private investment necessary to sustain and expand those services. There is a pressing need to assure regulatory/legislative consistency across state lines to maximize the benefits of these technologies.

As the use of IP becomes more widespread, the infrastructures for these technologies must have the scalability necessary to meet the demands of the new services that IP will be able to bring to the consumers.  As the need for IP-based services increases and companies rely on this delivery protocol for providing such services to commercial and residential customers, it can be assumed that other IP-based technologies also will emerge. The market needs to move forward in a homogeneous way; not in a piecemeal fashion with only some states or regions of the country adopting and moving forward with change. There is a need to monitor and address issues associated with developing IP networks, such as security, back up (data storage) needs, and fostering a regulatory climate that will support fair and open markets for the industry and for consumers.