100th Anniversary of Kingsbury Commitment on December 19, 2013
KINGSBURY WORKING GROUP
The Kingsbury Working Group (KWG) will update the December 19, 1913 Kingsbury Commitment with a new course of action and fresh start for the 100th anniversary in 2013. The original Kingsbury Commitment made AT&T the exception as countries nationalized telephone companies at the beginning of the 20th century. This time around the same type of public interest concerns threaten to extend PSTN like interconnection obligations to IP networks. The KWG will issue the update and plans for a kickoff in 2013 through an open letter to the incoming President and FCC Chairman on December 19, 2012.
The letter from AT&T Vice President Nathan Kingsbury to the US Attorney General in 1913 set in motion the public policy driven network interconnection regime that remains in place today. Questions about extending interconnection obligations to an IP context represent the principal uncertainty slowing the transition to all-IP networks. In both cases, policy makers weigh intervention to address spill over effects (positive and negative externalities) market forces do not address. Communication infrastructure continues to serve important economic development and social functions in society, but conditions and incentives in 1913 need not shape decisions today.
Theodore Vail understood the opportunity for a private sector solution to preempt government intervention. The 1913 letter documented the company's commitment to address concerns about vertical integration (divestiture of Western Union) and resolve interconnection disputes. Vail's "one system, one policy, universal service" motto aligned AT&T with a public policy vision. The same opportunity exists today for a private sector solution removing obstacles to IP service interworking that eliminates the need for government intervention.
The window of opportunity closes to the extent the network interconnection controversies persist. A way forward starts with a Do No Harm commitment by participating companies. The transition to all-IP networks should not risk the universal, uniform, interconnected, and reliable nature of ITU E.164 based voice services. These issues rely on government intervention in the case of the PSTN, but there remains time to demonstrate private sector alternatives for IP networks.
The years leading up to 1913 included the same power politics of network size associated with a zero sum view of the world. Wielding network interconnection for anti-competitive purposes seems like a good idea until government intervention erases commercial self-determination. The desire to preserve the non-regulated status of IP networks owes to the opportunity for all-IP telcos to pursue the same virtuous cycle of continuous improvement via the same incentives driving continuous improvement in the information technology sector.
The Kingsbury Working Group takes advantage of this once per century opportunity.