FCC begins special-access data-collection process, but competitive carriers want fair prices

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau has gotten approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to move ahead with the process of reviewing data from ISPs and service providers on the state of the special-access market.

Now that it has the OMB's blessing, the FCC said on Monday that it would begin collecting data on special-access trends.

Competitive service providers such as TW Telecom and BT use special-access services, including a mix of traditional copper- and fiber-based facilities, to transport voice and data traffic from cell phone towers and buildings and to carry transactions from ATMs and credit-card readers.

By collecting data from buyers and sellers of special-access service, the regulator said it hopes to determine how competitive the marketplace is.

"Special access service has become increasingly important in the digital economy, enabling businesses large and small to connect to their customers around the globe," said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, in a statement. "Consistent with the terms of OMB's approval, we will move forward with data collection and fact-based analysis that will help the Commission better understand competition in this marketplace, and the impact on consumers as we pursue the Commission's statutory mandate to ensure special access services are provided at reasonable rates and on reasonable terms and conditions."

The NoChokePoints Coalition, which represents a group of enterprise customers, competitive broadband providers and communities that rely on high-capacity "special access" lines, said they hoped the FCC's latest analysis will illustrate how AT&T, Verizon and other incumbent telcos hold a comfortable monopoly on the market.

"The last time the FCC collected data on special access, in 2007, that data showed that AT&T, Verizon, and other incumbents' control over these lines cost companies and consumers more than $10 billion annually in over-earnings and generates a profit margin of over 100%," said the NoChokePoints Coalition, in a prepared statement. "These indefensible rates and accompanying anticompetitive terms and conditions are a tax on economic growth and significant burden on our already cash-strapped local governments."

BT, which operates in the United States as a CLEC offering services to large multinational corporations, echoed a similar sentiment.

"BT is pleased that the Office of Management and Budget approved the mandatory data request in the FCC's special access proceeding," said BT in a prepared statement. "This will pave the way for last year's FCC order on special access to continue. We hope things can now move forward quickly. This is important both in helping get a fair deal for consumers of US communications services, and in fostering fair competition for business and other services. We continue to support NoChokePoints in their efforts on this important issue."

Special access continues to be a thorny issue for CLECs, which have relied on special-access circuits to extend services in areas where they have not built their own network facilities.

In December, the FCC announced that it was halting AT&T's (NYSE: T) request to stop offering long-term contracts and the associated discounts on TDM-based special-access circuits it sells to CLECs and wireless operators, at least for five months. At that time, AT&T said it would no longer offer new plans with terms longer than 36 months for tariffed TDM services, including DS1, DS3, analog private line and DS0 services.

 For more:
- see this release (.pdf)

Related articles:
Special access, end of PSTN no secret to wireline marketplace
AT&T's special access proposal faces fire from CompSouth
FCC delays AT&T's special access request
tw telecom joins CLEC battle against AT&T's special access proposal
Windstream asks FCC to investigate AT&T's special access increase proposals