FCC Accelerates Deregulation

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The pace of FCC deregulatory activities has quickened rapidly, with three major rulemaking efforts having recently come to the forefront.

In the first, Ajit Pai’s Commission adopted a Report and Order that loosens substantially the price controls on Business Data Services (BDS), which were formerly known as Special Access. These services, provided by incumbent LECs to businesses, non-profits and government institutions on a dedicated, point-to-point basis, have historically been subject to FCC price cap regulation.

The R&O found that substantial competition – “robust and vigorous” – exists in many BDS markets, to the point where “continued legacy regulation will impede the introduction of new services and raise prices,” rather than help consumers. In those markets, tariffing and pricing regulations will end. It also determined that since competition for lower speed services (DS1s and DS3s) is robust in only some markets, a competitive market test will be applied and price caps maintained where competition is still lacking.

A second recent action involves a triple play – NPRM, NOI and RFC – “Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment.” This effort would (1) speed the deployment of new networks and services by removing federal, state and local impediments (regulatory barriers) to infrastructure investment; (2) hasten the transition from copper networks to next-generation fiber; and (3) reduce regulations that increase costs and slow the growth of broadband.

Specifically, comments will be sought on: reforming the FCC’s current pole attachment rules to facilitate the building out of new networks; providing greater regulatory flexibility for retiring copper facilities and other changes to allow a more rapid transition to modern networks; and streamlining the FCC regulatory process under which carriers must seek approval to discontinue legacy services, in order to free up capital for more modern, innovative services.

The third leg of this deregulatory trilogy is an NPRM/NOI which opens a “comprehensive review of the legal framework for infrastructure deployment reviews, to identify regulatory barriers and examine how the Commission could act to remove or reduce those barriers.” Many current processes and programs at the local, state and Commission levels will be addressed, to attempt to reduce or eliminate multiple approvals required by a number of different regulators. The goal, again, is to more efficiently accomplish the rapid deployment of advanced broadband services.

There is certainly a sea change occurring under Pai’s Chairmanship.