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Strange Bedfellows

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There have been many-storied rivalries in American history. In the 1800s, the bitter political rivalry between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton was settled with a famous duel. Later that century, the Hatfields started warring with the McCoys, leaving behind epic tales still told today. Two-hundred years later, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird staged heated battles on the basketball court, and actors Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie remain bitter rivals in the battle over Brad Pitt's heart. Despite the intensity, the rivalries were all ultimately settled. Burr shot Hamilton dead, the Hatfields and McCoys hugged it out, Magic and Larry became friends, and Brangelina became the "it" couple while Aniston is engaged to be married, hopefully putting an end to the tabloid-style coverage of the matter.

Rivalries exist everywhere in life, even in the exciting world of communications policy. Communications and technology company AT&T and public interest group Public Knowledge are widely known to lock horns on matters of public policy, often bitterly. But it seems this rivalry may have a little more Magic-and-Bird vibe to it than Hamilton-and-Burr. Of late, the communications company and the advocacy group seem to have put aside their differences and locked arms in solidarity over the vision for the future of next generation communications infrastructure. Perhaps this doesn't have the drama of some of the other famous feuds, but in the communications policy world, when something like this happens, it's worth paying attention to because it must be important.

Specifically, AT&T found common ground with a white paper Public Knowledge released about the transition from antiquated telephone networks to the advanced high-speed broadband networks of the future. In this paper, Public Knowledge articulated five principles to govern the transition:

1) Service to all Americans
2) Interconnection and Competition
3) Consumer Protection
4) Network Reliability
5) Public Safety

For those not regularly knee deep in matters of communications policy, these five principles are basically a distillation of the ideas that have always guided communications in America, which is undoubtedly why AT&T agrees with them. As a recent post on the company's Public Policy Blog states:

There were several points in Public Knowledge's white paper that we could have written ourselves at AT&T. First, the transition has to occur. Our old reliable TDM technology is obsolete and defined by two words: "Manufacturer discontinued." Second, the fundamental principles of universal connectivity, consumer protection, reliability and public safety -- all hallmarks of our Nation's centuries old commitment to communications -- should not be lost in this transition.

Indeed, it appears maintaining this central principle -- that everyone should remain connected -- was the goal of AT&T's petition with the Federal Communications Commission to conduct regulatory "beta trials" in select markets as the outdated copper networks are upgraded and modernized. The idea behind these trials is that by ironing out potential issues in its micro stages, the transition will go much more smoothly when taken macro.

AT&T notes that some 70 percent of households in the company's wireline footprint have already ditched their traditional landline. It is precisely the inevitability of this transition to next generation high-speed broadband networks that makes the AT&T and Public Knowledge accord less surprising. It is obvious technology is evolving and it is equally as obvious that people are choosing to communicate in new, innovative ways. The five principles represent the shared universal goals to pursue as policy and regulation try to modernize to keep up with the speed of technological innovation.

The idea of modernizing our infrastructure with next generation broadband networks isn't at all new or controversial; consumers, consumer groups, and corporate America have spoken, and they're all saying the same thing. The only question is whether government agencies can work with the various stakeholders to make such a monumental upgrade to our nation's communications infrastructure quickly enough, while ensuring sufficient consumer protection. If the AT&T/Public Knowledge cease-fire teaches us anything, feuds and rivalries come and go. When common sense prevails, progress is a certainty.

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