INCOMPAS: FCC Should Close Competitive Divide

Competitive telecom providers and computer companies represented by INCOMPAS offered up a laundry list of issues they say are key to FCC chairman Ajit Pai's commitment to removing barriers to broadband deployment.

In a letter to Pai, they said his prioritization of closing the digital divide should include looking hard at inside wiring and multiple dwelling unit (MDU) issues—apartments, condos, etc.—and access to programming and business broadband last-mile connections at reasonable prices, all of which they say currently favor incumbents and limit expanding service by competitors.

In talking about broadband deployment, INCOMPAS is focused on deployment of competitive broadband, rather than where it is currently nonexistent.

The group points to contracts with exclusive rights to market in building common areas and MDU websites as one obstacle, or revenue-sharing arrangements that competitive carriers either can't afford or don't want to afford to enter into—INCOMPAS calls them kickback schemes.

It says the net impact of those obstacles is that deployment of competition is discouraged or denied altogether.

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And while deployment may be focused on where there is no service already, INCOMPAS points out the business case for such buildouts can hinge on being able to offer service to MDUs with existing providers. "When deploying competitive networks, it is critical that competitive providers can reach as many potential customers as possible with their networks."

Then there are the exclusive inside-wiring arrangements INCOMPAS says have still proved a barrier despite FCC rules that an incumbent has to either make that wiring available to competitors or remove it.

INCOMPAS says access to programming is yet another obstacle. "[T]he inability of competitive network providers to procure the right to and deliver affordable video programming also stands as a barrier to robust wireline broadband competition and deployment."

That is because those broadband providers need to bundle traditional video with broadband to compete in the residential market, and "obtaining video programming rights at affordable rates and under reasonable terms is an essential prerequisite to offering linear video service."

It says the FCC should "address the ease with which smaller MVPDs and new entrants can gain access to video programming."

Finally, INCOMPAS made a pitch for access to last-mile business broadband connections at reasonable rates, citing a study that found, for wireless carriers, that high backhaul costs—most of a wireless access point's transmission path is along wires—exacerbates the digital divide Pai vowed to close.

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.