D.C. Players React to FCC BDS Item Withdrawal

Industry players were reacting late Wednesday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's decision to pull a vote on the business data services (BDS) revamp proposal opposed by cable ISPs and others, including one who said it tarnished the commission.

The item had been scheduled for a vote Nov. 17, but was pulled after Republicans in Congress asked that Wheeler step down from any controversial votes given the transition to a new Administration and pointed out that a Republican FCC chair had done so when asked by Democrats in 2008 as President Barack Obama was transitioning into the White House.

“We are pleased with the FCC’s decision not to enact new regulations for business data services and other proceedings today,” said CenturyLink senior VP John Jones. “We believe the communications industry will continue to be competitive, innovative and market-driven without the burden of regulation. We look forward to working collaboratively with the new administration and the FCC to take our nation’s telecommunications and technology infrastructure to the next level of security, reliability and speed.” 

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USTelecom, whose members joined the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in opposing the proposal, was equally pleased -- NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, by contrast, had no comment.

“We appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s decision to abide by requests from Congress not to move forward with substantial policymaking proceedings that could have a significant impact on the economy and the public," said USTelecom President Walter McCormick. "We look forward to working with the new administration and FCC on future broadband initiatives that will lead to greater infrastructure investments that better serve American consumers and businesses.”

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The American Cable Association signaled it had liked the direction Wheeler had moved in adjusting the proposal to an after-the-fact, case-by-case approach to regulating the rates of competitive providers -- rather than the original geographic ex ante approach -- but was okay with no additional "regulatory headwinds."

"From the beginning of the BDS proceeding, ACA has urged the FCC to continue its four-decades-old policy of applying light-touch regulation to non-incumbent providers of BDS," ACA President Matt Polka said. "This policy has been enormously successful, resulting in non-incumbents investing billions of dollars to deploy extensive fiber facilities and greater choice and lower prices for consumers. We were heartened the Wheeler Commission heard our message and was moving in the right direction, though some issues were still outstanding. With the deletion of the item from the Nov. 17 agenda, ACA members will not face any additional regulatory headwinds and will continue to build new infrastructure to the benefit of commercial customers and the economy as a whole."

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Not so pleased was INCOMPAS, the association of competitive telecom providers and computer companies, that had pushed hard for the BDS proposal.

“After a decade long delay, and over $150 billion in economic impact to the American people due to overcharges, the business data services order deserves a vote at the FCC," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering.

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The item remains on circulation, so it could still get a vote, though the odds are slim.

As did Public Knowledge in pushing for action from a Trump Administration on unlocking the set-top box Nov. 16, INCOMPAS evoked progressive notes in hopefully urging that new Administration to take up the fight.

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“Failure to act tarnishes this FCC’s competition legacy and punishes small businesses, schools and libraries who have been promised faster speeds, lower prices and more competition. The voters have insisted that Washington is broken," he said. "They want more competition and better pricing.  The market is rigged for broadband monopolies.  It’s time for FCC leadership, in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, willing to fight for competition for all.” 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.