SBC and the rest of the phone industry won’t be able to free their Internet businesses of decades-old common carrier rules until the courts, Congress and the FCC figure out how broadband services should be regulated.
Late Thursday, the FCC rejected SBC’s request that the commission "forebear," or hold off, telephone-style regulation of Internet-delivered services. Currently, cable is not subject to telephone regs for its broadband phone service. The FCC said SBC’s request was "not sufficiently specific" to warrant approval by the commission.
Consumer advocacy groups and industry rivals saw SBC’s request as a "swing for the fences" gambit to eliminate much of the regulatory load their Internet business could face.
The FCC is currently conducting a larger rulemaking to determine exactly what existing rules should apply to Internet service—including voice, data, and video—and was not willing to give SBC blanket protection from regulation right now. The FCC also noted that SBC did not identify specific rules from which the company thought it should be exempted.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made clear, however, that he is strongly leaning toward granting regulatory relief for the Bells when the larger examination of Internet-related rules is completed. "The removal of legacy regulations should spur investment and the deployment of . . .facilities that will bring new broadband services to all Americans."
The Bells would particularly like an FCC declaration that phone companies don’t need to negotiate cable franchise agreements with every local government in the markets where they want to roll out Internet-based TV service.