FCC's Powell encourages telecoms to open up
By Cara Garretson
WASHINGTON (IDG) -- The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advised a telecommunication industry gathering here Friday to be up front with customers regarding shortcomings of new products and services, lest the frustration that users feel in adopting new technology makes it way into regulation.
At a meeting of the Network Reliability and Interoperability Council (NRIC) held at the FCC's Washington headquarters, Chairman Michael Powell was presented with reports, one of which was the recommendation that the council put an end to voluntary network-reliability trials. The council, established by the FCC, brings together industry, government, and academic telecommunication specialists to recommend ways of improving the reliability of public telecommunication networks. The committee attempts to encourage industry consensus on such issues, in place of regulation.
A presentation by P.J. Aduskevicz, chairwoman of NRIC's Network Reliability Steering Committee and an AT&T Corp. executive, included the recommendation that the council put an end to voluntary trials by telecommunication companies that test network reliability.
In response, Powell urged the council to find another way to deal with reliability issues, instead of simply shelving the voluntary trials.
While migrating to advanced telecommunication infrastructures and new services, such as wireless and satellite connections, there are bound to be lapses in service and quality, Powell said. Yet customers expect the same level of reliability and quality from new services as they do from well-established ones, he said. If providers don't acknowledge and explain these shortcomings to consumers, the frustration felt can be overwhelming, he said.
Network operators are sensitive to having outages and other problems exposed in a public forum such as the NRIC, Aduskevicz noted.
Although he said he understood that concern, Powell warned the committee "not to put heads in the sand" regarding reliability issues. Often when a high-profile outage of a telecommunication network occurs, consumers complain to their congressmen, he said. Lawmakers then want answers from the FCC chairman. "I want to (be able to) say 'there's an industry group working on it'" so that the politicians stay out of it, Powell said. But if the committee doesn't address such issues, customer frustration can end up having a direct effect on public policy, he said.
If the industry refuses to self-regulate and waits until a crisis occurs, it will regret not having taken action sooner, echoed James Crowe, chairman of the NRIC and chief executive officer of Level 3 Communications Inc.
Cara Garretson is a correspondent for the IDG News Service.
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