FCC issues NPRM to protect businesses, consumers in IP, copper retirement transition

During its November open meeting on Friday, the FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) related to the proposed transition large service providers are making from traditional TDM to IP, with an eye on consumers and small businesses that rely on services that may not be supported following a transition.

Two of the particular issues the NPRM will address are what will be the impact of ILECs retiring their copper networks and the migration from TDM-to-IP-based services.

With the NPRM, the FCC said it has proposed "greater transparency, consumer protection, and opportunities for consumer input when carriers are planning to shut down (or 'retire') their existing copper networks."

Specifically, the regulator will collect facts and data on two main elements: whether carriers are retiring copper networks without giving notice "by failing to maintain them" and investigating allegations that service providers are "not being clear with consumers about the options available when the copper network is shut down."

In the NPRM, the FCC will create a process to ensure that any new service a telco provides like IP-based Ethernet can address customer needs before they shut down legacy TDM-based T-1 circuits, for example.

At the same time, the FCC's NPRM will address how the IP transition will affect the wholesale last mile services traditional ILECs deliver to competitive providers, which they in turn use to provide services to their small and medium business (SMB), schools and hospital customers.

"Small and medium-sized businesses, schools, hospitals, and other government institutions often rely on services delivered by competitive broadband and phone providers," said the FCC. "Yet competitive providers may no longer be able to reach customers if incumbent carriers withdraw certain 'last mile' services."

This NPRM will also put forth a mandate that service providers looking to discontinue a legacy wholesale service should be required to provide competitive providers with "equivalent" wholesale access. It will also propose to update the FCC's rules so that CLECs get enough notice of when an ILEC is going to shut down their copper network "so that they can continue to serve their customers effectively."

A number of service providers and industry groups spoke out in support of the FCC's NPRM regarding the IP transition and copper retirement.

Windstream, which serves as both a CLEC and ILEC and an outspoken voice in calling for regulators to ensure that it and other competitors can get last-mile circuits for equivalent prices, said the NPRM should help to ensure competition and prevent harm to their business customers.

"With its action today, the FCC continues to defend competition and consumers from harm as the industry moves ahead with the IP transition," said Eric Einhorn, senior vice president of government affairs and strategy, in a statement. "Maintaining long established access to 'last-mile' facilities, which connect competitors' extensive fiber networks to individual customer locations, is critical to ensuring business, government, and nonprofit customers of all sizes continue to benefit from a competitive communications marketplace."

Likewise, competitive industry group COMPTEL said that the NRPM will provide some certainty to the competitive service provider industry that's looking to invest in their networks.

"As incumbents embrace and adopt IP technology, it is imperative that competition continues and that access to customers via the last mile is not disrupted," said Chip Pickering, president of COMPTEL. "Equivalent wholesale access at equivalent rates, terms and conditions is a critical component to promoting competition and ensuring that competitors can reach their customers."

For more:
- see the release

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