Broadband stimulus package restarts special access rates fight

The price AT&T, Qwest and Verizon charge for wholesale "special access rates" is up for discussion again, as plans to build out broadband to unserved and underserved parts of the county move forward with $6 billion in the economic stimulus package.

A new study said the Federal Communications Commission's ways to measure competition on wholesale pricing for high-speed circuits don't work, so wireless companies and data centers are not really getting a lot of price breaks. Sprint and others are using the study as leverage to assert that special access rates are too high and need reform.

Since Sprint says special access makes up a third of the ongoing expense of running a cell site. So if rates were "reduced substantially," thereby lowering operating expenses, it would make new cell site construction "viable" at locations where it was too expensive before. Cheaper access rates would, goes the argument, lead to more jobs.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) is more conservative, asking for the FCC to put price caps on some of them in the short term, and to open a proceeding on how to regulate them in the long run. Ultimately, the issue of reform will have to be resolved by the FCC and Congress.

For more:
- Ars Technica monitors the fight. Article.

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