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Smarter regulation requires that new rules be guided by a set of consumer-focused principles. Without dictating specific technologies or micro-managing how communications competitors meet their obligations, we should insist that every American have access to reliable service. Protecting consumers from fraud or misconduct by service providers, ensuring competition and consumer choice and ensuring public safety access also are critical. Every American should be confident, for example, that they can reach 911 no matter what communication device or technology they choose.
Current trends make clear that almost every American will soon use communications from Internet-based technology, not the old phone network. Knowing that, the FCC should move quickly to market trials to learn what problems consumers will experience with a rapid move from the old network to Internet-based communications. With that knowledge, means can be found to meet consumer needs.
Throughout history, innovation and new technologies have improved the way we live. But each change also required adjustments to maximize the gains. When the automobile overtook the horse, we needed new rules of the road so traffic would flow safely and efficiently. Electric lighting gave us the chance to adjust schedules for efficiency and lifestyle benefits because our day was no longer governed by the rising and setting of the sun.
Similarly, it’s time for smart, modernized telecom rules that promote consumer choice and protect consumer rights, enhance competition, and ensure public safety so that Americans fully enjoy the boundless opportunities of the Internet Age.
Former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chaired the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. He heads the government strategies practice at the law firm Sidley Austin, which represents communications companies.