FCC Grants Bells Fiber-to-Curb Relief

The Baby Bells scored a broadband victory Thursday at the Federal Communications Commission when the agency ruled that fiber deployments feeding into copper loops do not have to be leased to competitors at regulated rates.

The FCC had previously deregulated fiber-to-the-home facilities, but BellSouth Corp. petitioned the agency for relief for fiber deployments near homes that are served by last-mile copper loops.

SBC Communications Inc. reacted by announcing that the FCC’s ruling would allow it to speed its fiber-deployment schedule. The company had planned to pass 18 million homes by 2009 with fiber, but it said the new rules would allow it reach that goal by 2007.

Bell fiber deployment will allow the huge phone companies to provide voice, video and data in direct competition with cable companies, which were among the first to promote the concept of a facilities-based triple play.

Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Jim Moynihan released a report Thursday predicting that Verizon Communications would accelerate the rollout of fiber-to-the-premises facilities. Verizon was expected to pass 2 million homes by the end of 2005, but Moynihan said he now expects the company to reach 3 million by that date.

Consumer groups attacked the FCC’s decision, saying that it would lock out competitors from Bells’ fiber facilities and limit consumer choice.

“The FCC today took our country one giant step closer toward solidifying a two-company domination -- the local cable and telephone providers -- over the consumer Internet market,” Consumers Union senior policy director Gene Kimmelman said. “As both industries tighten their hold on high-speed Internet access, consumers will see their choices diminish and their bills skyrocket.”