FCC Proposal Gives Rivals Equivalent Access to IP Nets

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating two items to the other commissioners meant to insure that the IP-based 911 call goes through, and services supported by traditional copper networks are not lost in the retirement of those nets in favor of fiber or cable. That includes providing competitive carriers equivalent access and rates to the new service.

According to FCC officials speaking on background, the chairman is circulating a policy statement that the network compact values of competition, consumer protection, universal service and public safety and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asking how to preserve those values in the move from copper-based networks to IP delivery.

The items, being teed up for a vote at the FCC's November meeting, follow a series of ip-911 outages that affected millions and that the FCC has called unacceptable.

To prevent a repeat, the FCC is making clear that if the IP transition creates gaps in accountability and oversight of a functioning end-to-end 911 system, the FCC will step in to fill them.

Among the other proposals are updates to rules requiring networks, particularly incumbent providers, to inform the public of any major changes to service, and requiring that "new types of services meet the needs of consumers before carriers are allowed to remove legacy services from the marketplace."

The notice also tentatively concludes that that carriers who want to discontinue a service used as a wholesale "input" should have to provide competitive carriers relying on that input to access to equivalent wholesale access going forward. those competitive carriers should also have to receive "sufficient notice" of when copper networks are being retired so their service to customers is not interrupted.

And in a bit of housekeeping, the chairman is also circulating an order eliminating the requirement to file paper copies of notices of copper retirement, instead requiring those to be filed electronically.

“COMPTEL commends the Chairman for his leadership and commitment to ensuring that public safety, competition and interconnection are preserved during the technology transitions," said the association in a statement [it represents competitive carriers]. "We applaud the Chairman for circulating an item to initiate a proceeding that considers critical issues impacting business, education, nonprofit and government markets, and residential consumers, as the industry – led by competitors embracing advanced IP technologies – continues its transition to next-generation services.

"As the Commission proceeds, it must ensure that incumbents do not exploit their transition to IP technologies as a way to diminish or eliminate the wholesale access to last-mile connections on which competitors rely to serve business customers.

"In particular, it is important that the Commission adopt standards that, at a minimum, require equivalent wholesale access when incumbents seek to discontinue legacy services used by competitors to reach and provide innovative service to their customers.

"We look forward to continuing to work with the Commission on these important issues, so businesses can continue to benefit from the services our members deliver.”

"Public Knowledge commends Chairman Wheeler for taking steps to make good on the Commission’s promise to preserve universal access, public safety, consumer protection, and competition in the phone network," said Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge. "We are now in the midst of the transition, and the FCC cannot afford to lose any time in addressing the policy issues raised by new technologies and business practices."

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.