The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward on the transition of the phone system by adopting an order at its February open meeting. By a 5-0 vote, in addition to a number of other important first steps, the FCC adopted a set of governing principles for the transition. The principles focus on core values: Universal Service, Consumer protection, Competition, and Public Safety.
These principles did not just drop out of thin air. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel first proposed them in this speech in December of 2012. While few have noticed, Rosenworcel continued to quietly and effectively push this framework, culminating in a unanimous vote with broad approval from both corporations and public interest groups.
More amazing for this hyper-partisan and contentious times, the principles capture both progressive values and conservative values, traditionally shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. The idea that access to communications services is so essential to participation in society that the Federal government has a role in making sure that ALL Americans have affordable access goes back to the New Deal and Section 1 of the Communications Act. But the basic precept is even older, going all the way back to Founding Fathers. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the express power “to establish post offices and post roads” in recognition that ensuring that all Americans can communicate with each other is what helps make us a single country and one people — a core conservative value. As the arteries of commerce and the means of communication have evolved from post roads and post offices to steam trains and telegraphs to the automobile and the telephone, we have continued to preserve this idea of universal service to All Americans as a core traditional value of what it means to be an American.
But as essential and shared as these values are, no one was talking about them as the basis for the Phone Transition, or how to bring them forward into what Chairman Wheeler calls “The Fourth Network Revolution,” until Commissioner Rosenworcel started the conversation. From the time AT&T first proposed a “sunset of the Public Switched Telephone Network” during the National Broadband Plan in 2009 until Rosenworcel’s December 2012 speech, no one even talked about values – let alone proposed that a set of fundamental values needed to guide the transition. The conversation remained mired — and stalled — in myopic focus and bickering on the details of specific regulations. Commissioner Rosenworcel understood well before anyone else that the best way to move forward, and the way to keep the process firmly centered on the public interest, required reaffirming our fundamental values as the first step.