Many businesses and mobile broadband carriers rely on 'special access services' to manage internal communications and deliver broadband connections to customers. Special access services are typically older copper based connections, mostly owned by the largest carriers - Verizon and At&T. The FCC is examining the special access services market to determine whether regulation is necessary to speed delivery of broadband services and level the playing field.
The move by the FCC is receiving attention within the industry because regulation over broadband and access to the Internet has been repeatedly challenged in the courts, with the FCC on the losing end of a recent case over net neutrality. In fact, the FCC has been banned from micromanaging access to the Internet since 1996.
Since special access services are primarily controlled by the larger telecommunication providers, it is not surprising that they would be against the FCC move. They cite the fact that much of the special access service technology is being replaced by faster cable, fiber optic and ethernet loops. The FCC contends that special access services is part of the traditional phone and telecommunication market, which permits FCC regulation and control.
The larger carriers want nothing more than to transform special access services from slower copper-based connections to faster IP connections - largely to escape FCC oversight.
AT&T, Verizon and other larger special access service providers have indicated their dissatisfaction with the order. Bob Quinn, AT&T Senior Vice President for Federal Regulatory Affairs believes that the order oversteps the FCC's authority. “Instead of creating a path to fiber, significant infrastructure investment by all carriers, job creation and achieving the nation’s broadband goals, we are going to instead pursue policies that will result in less fiber, less infrastructure investment, less job creation, and less broadband. It’s not that we haven’t pulled this kind of transformation before.”
In addition to challenging the FCC's authority, AT&T also expressed concern about reversing the industry trend in supporting the migration from older technology to a faster IP-based infrastructure.
"We are concerned about the impact the proposed action is going to have for the overall transition to IP technology that the FCC had begun in that USF order. The transition to IP cannot happen fast enough. The industry needs to move to a more cost-effective, all-IP infrastructure if we are going to remain a globally competitive economic force."
AT&T also pledges support for the Obama administration's goal to provide wireless broadband access to 98% of Americans. By pointing out the contradiction between the President's broadband availability goal and the FCC's move to regulate special access services, AT&T is attempting to make the case that less regulation is the clearest path to ubiquitous broadband access. In other words, if the government gets out of the way, the company can build it faster and better.
From the AT&T blog, written by Bob Quinn:
"With the right policies, we could have this type of significant investment in every area on the path to an all-IP world. That is what the Obama Administration called for in its mission to get high speed wireless broadband to 98% of Americans and its renewed call earlier this year to create jobs by upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, including its communications infrastructure. And this is exactly the kind of wide-scale infrastructure investment that can create jobs, keep the economy moving and keep America globally competitive. The mission is clearly articulated and appears to have universal bi-partisan support – broadband infrastructure investment creates jobs. But we need a plan to get there and, unfortunately, that does not appear to be the road the FCC has chosen to go down. The rhetoric is good, but at some point we have to walk the talk. Right now, it’s all just talk."
Whatever the outcome of this particular battle over special access services, the larger issue of FCC regulation of the Internet still looms. Net Neutrality, data usage caps and online piracy are just some of the major consumer issues which will dominate debate in the near future.