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Cable Get Some Concessions In Special Access Order

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau Wednesday took the next step in collecting data on the marketplace for special access (business) broadband services. The commission plans to use it for one-time analysis to determine if it has to make any changes to its pricing flexibility rules.

The report and order "[clarifies] the scope of the collection to reduce burden where doing so is consistent with our delegated authority and will not impact the Commission's ability to analyze the data; (2) [provides] instructions and record format specifications for submitting information; and (3) [modifies and amends] questions and definitions contained in the collection."

The FCC said it would issue a public notice with deadlines for submission once the new data collection has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget per the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Cable operators got some concessions to their concerns about the scope of the data collection. For example, the FCC clarified that a filer can put "unknown" if it does not know whether a connected location is a building, cell site, or other structure. The FCC had proposed requiring a location type with a latitude and longitude.

Cox and Comcast had argued that they don't necessarily know or keep tabs on the type of structure, and that recreating it for the data collection could be burdensome.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association and American Cable Association had asked not to have to provide maps verifying interconnection nodes. The FCC said it would not eliminate those obligations, but would reduce the burdens.

The order exempts cable operators but not competitive carriers from reporting existing but not operational facilities that could be providing dedicated service, which did not sit well with commissioner Ajit Pai. "Exemption is not 'consistent with the terms of' the Data Collection Order, which made clear that the Bureau should collect data about all communications pathways with the 'capability to provide a dedicated service'—no matter 'the medium used (e.g., whether it is fiber, copper, or coaxial cable),'" he said.

Pai said he was concerned that an "incomplete" picture of competition would lead to "inappropriate intervention," which he said he could not support.

In a 3-2 party line vote in August 2012, the FCC suspended its current benchmarks for deregulating the rates of special access services while it better determines where there is competition for that service. In December 2012, the commission launched the new data collection effort.

The "better determining" part is the data collection framework announced in December. The FCC has tried voluntary data collections in the past, but some players were no-shows.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has argued the commission proposal is too extensive and burdensome a data collection effort, pointing to the "extreme burden that a nationwide, building-by-building data request would impose on cable operators and while it was still vetting the 100-page-plus order, the trade group said in a statement that it "remain concerned that it could result in significant and burdensome reporting requirements for competitive providers."

Under FCC rules, telcos are required to lease special access lines to competitors. But the FCC deregulated AT&T and others' special access lines in 2009 in cases where competitive triggers are met.

Those lines are the "last mile" dedicated broadband lines to businesses, which incumbent local exchange carriers like AT&T dominate. By contrast, residential customers can generally choose from cable or phone lines for their service.

The commission more than a dozen years ago removed "dominant pricing" regulations, while continuing to regulate interconnection and reasonable pricing per its Title II common carrier regulation of Independent Local Exchange Carrier (ILECs). Ever since, the commission has been under pressure from public interest groups to re-regulate special access.

"We could not be more delighted that after the FCC first approved the mandatory data request on the grievously broken $18 billion special access market, that today it officially released that data request, paving the way for real reform of these outdated and market-abusive rules," said the NoChokePoints Coalition. "Consumers and business users now have real hope for data-driven relief from inflated prices and anticompetitive terms and conditions, and the end of this multi-year drag on innovation, investment and jobs."

"I applaud the Commission for taking this next step in moving forward with the Special Access Order," said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.). "The FCC will need to move quickly to gather the data and use it to properly analyze these services to help ensure competition in the marketplace. The more information that is gathered by the FCC the better, as it should clearly establish the state of special access services. I hope that this request will lead to appropriate action in a timely manner, which the marketplace clearly needs."