Telcos Take Aim at Legacy Regulations

WASHINGTON — Telephone companies are trying to leverage Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s push for competition to cable Internet-service providers to get out from under legacy regulations.

Wheeler has been hammering on ISPs, including cable operators, calling them terminating monopolists with the incentive to protect their monopoly power. It is part of his push for higher-speed broadband and Internet neutrality rules.

That has not gone unnoticed by the wireless companies trying to retire their mandates to invest in traditional phone lines.

The companies want the FCC to get rid of a bunch of regulations in the move to IP delivery, saying that squares with Wheeler’s “competition, competition, competition” mantra and his push for more competition to cable ISPs.

Those rules require firms to maintain and support traditional copper plant at what they argue is great cost for little return — an expense not required of their cable-telephony competitors.

In a 295-page petition to the FCC asking it to forbear legacy regulations, members of USTelecom — the main telco trade group in Washington — argued that the business services market is increasingly competitive, citing the pending Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger as an example of how it could get even more so. MSOs have pitched the merger as a way to strengthen cable’s ability to compete in broadband business services vis a vis AT&T and Verizon Communications.

They hitched their new filing to recent speeches by Wheeler, suggesting they were being responsive to the chairman in filing the petition.

They quoted a speech the chairman delivered at the Silicon Flatirons conference in Boulder, Colo.: “Due in part to outdated rules, the majority of the capital investments made by U.S. telephone companies from 2006 to 2011 went toward maintaining the declining telephone network, despite the fact that only one-third of U.S. households use it at all.”

They also cited a speech Wheeler delivered last month at 1776, a D.C. based startup “incubator” whose founding partners include Comcast Business and Microsoft. There, Wheeler said competition for highspeed broadband was lacking, and that only fiber gives cable-operator “gatekeepers” a run for their money.

The telecoms argued that if Wheeler wants them to be more competitive with cable, it should lift those legacy regulations that suck up investment better put into those high-speeds and advanced services.

A spokesperson for the National Cable & Telecommunciations Association said the trade group was still reviewing the filing and had no comment at press time.

USTelecom’s filing notwithstanding, Wheeler has not been sending signals that he is ready to start removing regulations.

In fact, at about the same time USTelecom was outlining its petition, Wheeler was telling an audience of those competitive telecommunications carriers at the annual COMPTEL convention in Dallas that there would be no flash cut to a deregulatory IP future.

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.