FCC proposes extending copper retirement, sets IP transition protections for consumers, businesses

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has set forth an agenda that the commission plans to discuss at its August 6 open meeting designed to protect both businesses and consumers as ILECs migrate more of their networks from copper to fiber and to IP.

Copper retirement continues to be a thorny issue between ILECs, CLECs and consumers. Under the FCC's proposed plan, ILECs would be required to notify consumers of their retirement plans. Business customers would be given about six-months notice, while residential customers get three months notice before copper facilities are shut down.

In addition, ILECs would be required to provide notice to CLEC wholesale customers that use copper facilities to deliver voice and Ethernet over Copper (EoC) services to business customers. ILECs would also be given the option to retire copper networks and replace them with fiber without prior Commission approval, but only if no service is discontinued, reduced, or impaired.

CLECs like XO Communications, which has built a sizeable fiber network but uses copper facilities to deliver EoC and other services, has been battling with ILECs like Verizon over the copper retirement issue. In a recent FCC filing, the CLEC said that "incumbents provide notice of retirement at least one year in advance of retirement."

Not surprisingly, Verizon maintains that a prolonged copper retirement process could also have an effect on competition.

In tandem with the copper retirement issue, the FCC has proposed that there should be protections to ensure that ILECs can't jack up prices on next-generation IP services. CLECs and their SMB customers that depend on lower-speed TDM-based T-1 and related services face uncertainty as incumbent carriers prepare to stop offering some of these services.

The FCC has proposed that that replacement IP services will be offered to "competitive providers at rates, terms and conditions that are reasonably comparable to those of the legacy services." It added that this would be an "interim measure," pending the FCC's special access proceeding, which is taking a broader look at these issues.

An additional aspect is that ILECs that plan to discontinue a TDM-based service that has only wholesale customers will still have to follow the statutory process for discontinuance if the action would negatively impact retail users served by those carrier customers. Even if a service provider's discontinuation of a wholesale service may not have an impact on retail end users, the FCC said that "the carrier still must undertake a meaningful evaluation to determine whether the statutory discontinuance process is triggered."

The Broadband Coalition, a group that represents a number of competitive providers, applauded the FCC's move.

"The technology transition is not just about legacy copper, it's about preserving the legacy of competition,' said Jeff Sharp, a spokesperson for The Broadband Coalition, in a release. "The FCC Chairman's announcement today recognizes the important role competitive broadband providers have in providing business customers and institutions--including schools, libraries, health care facilities and government offices--with innovation, more choices and lower prices."

For more:
- see this FCC fact sheet

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