Thursday, May 15, 2008

Should Telecom Customer Migration Rules be Extended to New Carriers?

A request by Time Warner (TW) Telecom to have the PSC’s End User Migration Guidelines extended to new providers, including Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) and cable companies offering voice service, may open the door to a fresh regulatory landscape in New York.

The End User Migration Guidelines were originally implemented in New York in January 2001 and were greatly expanded in June 2002. The objective of the Guidelines is to ensure that customers can migrate from one competitive local service provider (a “CLEC”) to another and from a CLEC to the incumbent (“ILEC”) without encountering delays, service problems, slamming, or cramming. The Guidelines established general business rules and privacy protocols as well. In fact, the Guidelines have been a major success in aiding customer migration between local carriers and have since been adopted in other states, oftentimes in their entirety.

New types of players providing local telecom services have joined the marketplace since adoption of the Guidelines in 2002. TW Telecom says in its Petition that it is time to consider expanding the applicability of the Guidelines. While the company’s Petition was just filed this week and the Commission has not yet had an opportunity to respond, this could be a helpful step for all consumers since the same uniform set of rules would apply as customers switch from provider to provider regardless of the technology used. Most customers don’t distinguish between switched and IP technologies when selecting a telecom provider and are already permitted to keep their telephone number when they go, for example, from Verizon to Cablevision. Shouldn’t the same migration rules apply as well?

Currently, residential customers seeking to change service providers from the incumbent to a VoIP provider would not be protected by the Migration Guidelines. Unnecessary delays could occur and service could be temporarily lost, without any defined recourse. However, because voice services offered by cable television companies and VoIP services in general are not regulated by the Commission, could they even be brought under the Migration Guidelines’ banner without state legislative authorization or FCC approval? And, if so, could this regulatory change be extended to other areas, such as requiring these new providers to be certificated as CLECs and offer discounted Lifeline service with compensation through the existing federal and state pools?

Regulatory extension of the Migration Guidelines to VoIP and cable voice customers would provide benefits to these new providers because it would add a level of certainty for their potential customers. Once this occurs, however, and a precedent has been set, should the Commission venture further and make the differences between old and new service providers virtually indistinguishable? Permitting reimbursement through the state Targeted Accessibility Fund and the Federal Universal Service Fund for offering Lifeline could be yet another positive development.

Lou Manuta

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