BDS reform, utility pole attachments, copper retirement and more at FCC’s upcoming meeting

Stack of documents

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dubbed April “infrastructure month” and said he will follow through on that moniker by voting for a range of rule changes he said will speed up the deployment of new wireline networks, speed up the replacement of aging copper networks, and bring a “balanced approach” to the rules that govern the market for special access, also called Business Data Services (BDS).

“To bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans, the FCC needs to make it easier for companies to build and expand broadband networks,” Pai wrote in a blog post. “We need to reduce the cost of broadband deployment, and we need to eliminate unnecessary rules that slow down or deter deployment. At next month’s Commission meeting on April 20, the FCC will be voting on a number of proposals to do just that.”

Although he didn’t provide the specifics for any of the proposals, they are issues that have been kicked around the FCC for in some cases more than a decade. Pai has said his goal as the newly installed FCC chairman is to speed up the agency’s work in order to allow telecommunications companies and others make necessary moves in the marketplace and changes to their business models. Not surprisingly, though, virtually all of Pai’s proposals will likely receive criticism from some in the regulatory sphere, likely for favoring larger companies over smaller ones and for not taking the public’s interest into account.

Indeed, Pai’s recent decision to remove advertising restrictions on companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast – rules geared toward allowing them to sell customers’ browsing data and putting them under the FTC’s purview to more effectively compete against internet giants like Google and Facebook, received widespread criticism. And Congress’ move to codify that action generated similar outrage among privacy proponents.

Nonetheless, Pai appears keen to move forward on several other major regulatory topics that have long bedeviled the telco space, including:

  • Lowering the cost and speeding the deployment of internet-related equipment on city utility poles.
  • Allowing companies to more quickly retire their copper networks and, perhaps more importantly, “expedite the transition” to fiber networks.
  • And refreshing rules on the special access market, also called BDS.

The BDS item is particularly noteworthy as it generated a significant amount of back-and-forth during Tom Wheeler’s tenure as FCC chairman. Pai noting there is growing competition in the BDS space driven by cable companies, and “where this competition exists, we will relax unnecessary regulation, thereby creating greater incentives for the private sector to invest in next-generation networks. But where competition is still lacking, we’ll preserve regulations necessary to prevent anti-competitive price increases.”

Pai also said he would address other issues including ways he said would speed up the deployment of mobile broadband networks.