A broadband lobbying group representing AT&T and Verizon is asking the Federal Communications Commission for more time to comment on an upcoming agency decision that could have the biggest impact on broadband since net neutrality.
USTelecom on Tuesday asked the agency for three more months to analyze data that will be used to decide whether the FCC should regulate the rates and terms America’s biggest broadband providers — AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, and Frontier — set for smaller providers like Sprint, Level 3, XO Communications, and Windstream, who borrow their networks.
“The commission’s data collection effort is a unique and massive undertaking,” senior vice president of USTelecom Jon Banks wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “Providing three months to properly analyze and understand the data is consistent with the fact-based approach the commission has taken. The potential value of this information should not be squandered by a rushed analysis.”
The FCC has spent years gathering data on the “special access,” or business broadband market from incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) like AT&T and Verizon, who inherited large swaths of their networks from the Bell Telephone monopoly, and competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) like Sprint and Level 3, which contract with ILECs to borrow their infrastructure as mandated by the FCC and offer competing service.
Those in the latter group have complained in recent years ILECs are forcing them into strict terms of service, charging anticompetitive rates and making it harder for CLECs to transition and upgrade to newer Internet protocol-based networks like fiber.
The FCC voted in August to allow ILECs to move off their copper networks entirely and onto fiber, at the same time warning major providers they would have to give competitive carriers relying on incumbent networks reasonable rates for service replacement. In October, the agency officially opened an investigation into the prices ILECs charge CLECs for special access service, also used by “small businesses, government offices, hospitals, medical offices, schools, libraries, ATMs, and credit card readers,” according to the FCC.
Now as the FCC approaches its Jan. 6 deadline to hear comment on the issue, ILECs say they need more time to analyze the years’ worth of data accumulated by the agency, according to a request filed with the FCC by USTelecom and the Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance.
“Given the enormity of the data set, the complexity of the industry and the importance of it to our economy, once the data are stable and the necessary software and tools are available, 12 weeks will be necessary to provide the meaningful opportunity to analyze the data and prepare comments required by the Administrative Procedures Act,” the groups said in their filing Tuesday.
“The public interest requires a thoughtful and thorough review of the data the commission has collected given the importance of these services and the crucial need to encourage more investment to serve these business customers.”
The Broadband Coalition, representing Level 3, XO Communications, and Windstream, applauded the October announcement, saying ILECs “lock-up contracts have exclusionary volume terms and conditions that force wholesale business customers to use up to 90 percent of their services each month or face steep penalties.”
“Just imagine the consumer outrage if you were charged more each month for not using all your cell minutes,” Jeff Sharp, a spokesman for the Broadband Coalition, said in a statement.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association also came out in support of the FCC against the current price regulation and tariff requirements, which at present only apply to traditional telephone networks in the $20 billion special access market.
“Almost every American relies upon these high-capacity, ‘special access,’ broadband lines each day — usually without even knowing it,” CCIA said in a statement. “But the only thing ‘special’ about them is that the two biggest providers ‘lock-up’ their customers into long-term, exorbitant contracts, preventing them from seeking alternative choices and using innovative new products.”
USTelecom and others argue extending old telephone-style regulations to new technologies ignores the increased competition in the broadband market posed by cable providers and tech giants like Google, which is rolling out its fiber network into cities across the U.S.
“The future of the business services market is in advanced, IP-based, high-speed networks that are offered today throughout the nation on a competitive basis by cable and others who can provide service under private contracts that are exempt from regulation,” USTelecom President Walter McCormick said in a statement.
“Yet, at the very time the commission is expressing concern over the growing dominance of cable in the overall broadband marketplace, and acknowledging that burdensome legacy regulation of telecom companies is misdirecting investment and hindering competition, it launches an old-fashioned ‘tariff’ investigation of the only competitors in the marketplace who are required to operate under last century’s antiquated rules.”