SBA: Broadband choices should be preserved for small businesses

As the FCC moves forward with its review of special access rates that incumbent telcos charge to CLECs, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has asked the regulator in a letter to consider the impact such transitions have on small businesses.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) extended the deadlines for filing comments to July 1, 2015, and reply comments to July 22, 2015.

This letter follows a study that the SBA released in 2010 that said that small businesses saw broadband as vital a tool as basic utilities like electricity. However, small businesses that participated in the study also said they weren't satisfied with the price and choices they could get from local service providers.

Most small businesses get their services from the local ILEC, CLEC or a cable operator like Comcast Business (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

A number of small businesses like Oregon Coast Event Rentals have also sent letters to the FCC asking them to ensure choice in terms of pricing and service provider to run their business.

"As technology transitions and more services move to IP based solutions, we encourage you to protect the wholesale access market," wrote Danielle Emerick, owner of Oregon Coast Event Rentals, in a letter to the FCC. "This will ensure that our ability to choose a competitive provider, based on factors including customer service and price, will remain intact."

While a number of CLECs like XO and Windstream have built out sizeable fiber networks of their own, they still have to rent copper-based facilities to reach locations where they have not yet built facilities. This means having access to traditional TDM and copper-based facilities from local ILECs means they can scale their reach and serve customers.

With all of the ILECs moving forward with their IP transition and copper retirement plans, CLECs and industry advocates want to ensure that any time copper facilities are retired it won't harm end users that are served by those facilities.

"Because of the potential harm to consumers, including small businesses, incumbent carriers should not be permitted to retire infrastructure that is currently in use without FCC oversight," wrote the SBA. "To prevent incumbents from raising barriers to competition when modernizing their networks, the FCC should also adopt its proposal to require incumbent providers to offer equivalent wholesale rates, terms, and services to competitive providers when it grants such applications."  

XO Communications, which has found success in not only delivering both fiber-based products, but also Ethernet over Copper (EoC), has asked the FCC to provide a one-year notice when they are going to retire copper in a certain area.

The CLEC wrote in an FCC filing while it isn't looking prevent ILECs from retiring copper facilities, it wants to ensure that any copper facility shutdown won't harm any of its business customers.

XO said it "needs sufficient time to work with its effected retail customers to identify and then provide a replacement service, either by building its own facilities or leasing them from another provider."

Perhaps not surprisingly, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) said in its own filing that having to abide by a one-year notice will delay their transition to IP and fiber by requiring it to "create costly new databases of their facilities, and provide as much as two-year forecasts of their planned copper retirements."

Copper retirement is only one issue that CLECs small businesses are concerned about. CLECs also want to ensure that as ILECs like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon will also provide IP-based services like Ethernet that are priced similarly as today's TDM-based services.  

For more:
- see the SBA's letter
- see these FCC filings (.pdf)

Related articles:
FCC extends deadline to file comments on special access proceeding
Verizon says XO's 1-year copper retirement proposal will create unnecessary costs, delay IP transition
AT&T to FCC: There are plenty of alternative choices for special access services
CenturyLink forbearance ruling could set off competitive dogfight
IP transition shouldn't be a license to price gouge CLECs, business customers, says Windstream