NCTA Rips FCC Special Access Proposal

On the eve of the FCC's April 28 public meeting vote on a proposal to potentially regulate the rates of cable ISP special access (business broadband) service for the first time, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association was taking aim in a blog post at the FCC's decision to regulate "the insurgents."

NCTA said that the FCC was reversing basically 40 years precedent for not regulating new entrants, a move that would jeopardize the gains cable operators had made against the incumbent telcos with the lion's share of the market.

Wheeler has billed it as a tech-neutral remake of the old dominant vs. nondominant regime to spur competition wherever the FCC finds it insufficient. NCTA sees it differently.

"While cable operators are off to a promising start in serving businesses, cable is still the new kid on the block," NCTA blogged. By way of comparison, just AT&T’s commercial revenue for 2015 was more than twice the commercial revenue generated by the entire cable industry.  

"Consequently, under an appropriate regulatory framework, there are still millions of businesses that could benefit from the competition that cable has demonstrated that it can deliver. Unfortunately, the FCC’s proposal jeopardizes this progress and the benefits cable is delivering to business customers."

NCTA said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler was essentially ignoring the "clear success" of the historic bias against regulating the rates of new entrants and "inexplicably seeks comment on whether the Commission should begin regulating the rates charged by competitive providers of Ethernet and other business data services."

It said Wheeler's defense of the proposal as needed to address marketplace failures with technology-neutral rules "cannot be reconciled with the fact that cable operators have entered the market and invested billions in new facilities to bring better services and lower prices to millions of businesses. That is the definition of an increasingly competitive marketplace, not a failing one."

Following the vote on the item, Wheeler addressed cable concerns about new regulation on new entrants in a press conference.

"when I was running NCTA, the mantra was "level playing field, level playing field, level playing field,'" he said. "So, here is a level playing field that says that everyone who offers a telecommunications service gets regulated in the same way. 'Oh, no, we don't like that playing field.'"

Wheeler said new regulation will "flow" ot of the degree of competition, which only makes sense. "In competitive environments, the regulation is going to be light, or nonexistent. so what's the deal."

One deal is that the FCC has said there will be a benchmark test for what constitues competition, and that could be a mix of factors it has yet to come up with--but is seeking comment on.

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.