FCC Takes Some Action On Special Access

The FCC says it will start making data it has been collecting on the special access market available to the public as it continues to review the state of competition for wholesale and institutional broadband service, a $40 billion annual industry, says the FCC.

Access is subject to protective orders for access to the sensitive business information, though there are outstanding challenges to that access.

The National Cable & Telecommunications early in the now two-year-plus process said it was not comfortable supplying maps and customer data to the FCC

The commission said to help it with its own review of the data, it has employed Boston University professor Marc Rysman to produce a white paper on the nature of competition and marketplace practices.

In addition, the FCC released two public notices, one naming more individuals seeking access to the data (https://www.fcc.gov/document/public-notice-listing-parties-seeking-acces...), which included AT&T, COMPTEL, and USTelecom, and the other extending the comment and reply comment periods on the special access rulemaking to Nov. 20 and Dec. 11, respectively.

The FCC actually launched the special access review back in December 2012. (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/washington/ncta-asks-fcc-rethink-s...).

Then, in a 3-2 party line vote in August 2012, the FCC suspended its benchmarks for deregulating the rates of special access services while it said it better determined where there is competition for that service.

Under FCC rules, telcos are required to lease special access lines to competitors, like cable operators. 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.

"“This proceeding has the potential for effective reform that will connect businesses, schools, hospitals and government offices with more choices and better prices for broadband, and COMPTEL is pleased that that Chairman has committed to completing this proceeding during his tenure," COMPTEL said in a statement.

“Special access data is competition data," said Jeff Sharp, spokesperson for the Broadband Coalition. "Chairman Tom Wheeler and this FCC have shown their willingness to break down every barrier to competition, and the special access data will be an important arrow in their quiver.

“As both an ILEC and a CLEC, Windstream is a strong supporter of any process on special access that helps produce a rational, data-driven outcome," said SVP government affairs Eric Einhorn. "Windstream commends the FCC for the announcement that it will make special access data available for public review, as well as commission an independent analysis. Key questions that will be asked, and hopefully answered, in this proceeding are: How much competition exists in local markets around the country?  And how can we preserve competition where it is thriving and foster it where it is not?  All parties benefit from this push by the FCC to bring closure to the special access debate.”

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.