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FCC's Role in Integrated Services Digital Networks Seen as One of Monitoring Not Participation.

In its recently released report on integrated services digital networks (ISDNs), designed to provide a wide range of telecommunications and information services by sending electrical signals in digital rather than analog form, the FCC says ISDNs represent the next stage in the evolution of communications.

Initially, telephone networks sent voice signals in analog form, but with the advent of computer-to-computer communications, digital information was transformed into analog form to be sent over analog networks intended for voice signals.

With the rapid development of digital technology, voice and data communications were sent over both digital and analog media. In recent years many national networks have moved toward sending voice and digital signals on digital media because many believe that digital networks may reduce costs, increase service quality and provide users with new services.

The Consultative Committee for International Telegraph and Telephone (CCITT) is attempting to create model ISDN technical recommendations upon which each nation would pattern its own ISDNs. Such uniformity could permit national networks to interconnect to a worldwide system and enable users in one country to use their terminals in any country.

CCITT is developing a uniform set of technical specifications extending from the network down to customer premises equipment (CPE). In its inquiry issued last August, the commission noted that in this country, competitive market forces could result in some deviation from those specifications since CPE is not regulated.

The commission pointed out in the notice that unless ISDN plans are designed with sufficient flexibility, both US and foreign users could be precluded from, or limited in, specifying the service providers and services they wanted to use. Users might also express concern over whether ISDNs will be designated to accommodate private leased lines technically and economically.

Under the regulatory the framework of Computer II, the FCC noted, users must be able to obtain carrier's pure transmission capability in the form of discrete services separate from enhanced service offerings. Therefore, it said, it is important that ISDNs be implemented consistent with this decision and other competitive policies. Pursuant to Computer II, basic surveys may be provided over ISDNs, and ISDNs may also form the building blocks for providing enhanced services and there may be enhanced service implementations of ISDN, the commission reported. FCC Seeks to Ensure Competition

In the notice of inquiry, the FCC asked how it could best ensure that ISDNs are structured to foster competition and serve the public interest. It wanted to know how the competitive nature and structure of US telecommunications could be maintained best without diminishing any efficiencies that may be inherent in uniform ISDN specifications and how ISDN specifications conform best to the regulatory scheme adopted in Computer II.

After receiving a broad range of comments representing user groups, exchange and interexchange carriers, enhanced service vendors, equipment manufacturers, the data processing community and government agencies, the commission determined there were areas of broad and virtually universal concensus and some issues, specifically some Computer II-related issues, on which there was less agreement.

All parties agreed that ISDN represents a natural and desirable next step in the evolution of telecommunications and that the FCC's overall national pro-competitive policies are desitable and important and that implementation of ISDN within the US should be consistent with these policies. They also agree that the FCC has tentatively defined an appropriate role for itself in the evolution of ISDN and that it is important to ensure that, as ISDN is implemented, the benefits of existing services, primarily dedicated leased channels, are not lost.

Regarding the Computer II issues, AT&T and the Bell operating companies argued for more flexibility in the application of Computer II, while others urged that the Computer II policies are appropriate and any reconciliation with ISDN planning that may be necessary should be accomplished through the introduction of additional flexibility in the ISDN concept.

After studying the comments received in response to the notice of inquiry, the commission determined that a major goal in the formulation of ISDNs must be to ensure that the numbering codes used with the system allow for equal access to multiple-service providers in US and international calling.

The commission determined that an ISDN structure that classifies all basic service together was imperative. It observed that under certain circumstances it might waive the prohibition of commingling of basic and enhanced service by carriers subject to structural separation, but said that even if it does so, unencumbered basic service will still be required to be available generally under Computer II requirements governing all carriers and not only those subject to structural separation.

With respect to private-line service, the commission noted that ISDN planning documents now include private-line service as an element of ISDN. The commission endorsed its continued provision and noted that broad scale discontinuance or impairment of dedicated private-line services might require certification under Section 214(a) of the Communications Act, in view of the strenuous argument of users and others that the public convenience and necessity would not be served by substitution of ISDN alternatives for private line.

In addressing the FCC's proper role to design telecommunications facilities or to subject the design process to potentially paralytic administrative procedures such as rulemaking. The commission did say it was clear that technical and other judgements involved in ISDN planning could raise significant policy concerns.

The report concluded that the FCC shoudl participate in CCITT delegations and informally or in an advisory role with the Department of State advisory committees and the Exchange Carriers Standards Association Committee accredited by the American National Standards Institute, not to engage in the design process, but to monitor and raise to the active participants the policy implications of their planning.
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Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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