FCC Schedules Vote on Special Access Remake

Could subject cable ISPs to new rate regs
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The FCC has released the agenda for the next public meeting and, as signaled by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, the proposal to remake the business broadband marketplace regulatory framework is on the docket.

The FCC is proposing to phase out the presumption of regulating the historically "dominant carriers"—the ILEC (incumbent local exchange carriers)—to boost competition from "nondominant" CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) and cable competitors, and instead regulate either or all, as it deems necessary, in the name of boosting price and service competition for the "special access" services.

Special access lines are dedicated connections used by businesses and institutions to deliver voice and data traffic, including for ATMs and credit card transactions. The regs have been applied to the ILECs—Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink and Frontier—but the chairman thinks they should apply across the board where more competition is needed.

Wheeler has called that a tech-neutral approach. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has called it off base, though it was referring to a compromise special access proposal from Verizon and INCOMPAS long similar lines.

"[A]ny finding that competitive entry has been insufficient to affect the prices offered to consumers (e.g., because competitors do not offer the same range of services or their networks have limited geographic reach) necessarily means that the incumbent LEC remains dominant and should be regulated accordingly," NCTA says.

Understandably, cable operators aren't particularly pleased with being in the FCC's rate reg sights.

The FCC is basing its special access reforms on a major, years-long data-collection effort. NCTA, which has had issues with that collection in the past, has said it would be "wholly inappropriate for the commission to reach any tentative conclusions about the state of the marketplace or the appropriate course for regulation based on a non-public analysis prepared by a single entity."

That warning notwithstanding, the FCC is scheduled to vote the proposal April 28.

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