Sprint, T-Mobile voice support for Verizon, Incompas truce in special access

In a new filing with the FCC, a group representing the nation's smaller and rural wireless carriers voiced support for Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) agreement with Incompas over special access.

The Competitive Carriers Association, Incompas, Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular jointly urged the FCC to adopt policies "consistent with the Verizon and Incompas agreement." The group argued for policies "to ensure reasonable access to high capacity Business Data Services ('BDS'), also known as special access services, including high bandwidth Ethernet services. Access to high capacity BDS at reasonable prices -- as Chairman [Tom] Wheeler says 'fast and fair' -- is vital for wireless providers to meet the current demand for wireless broadband services and to build next generation mobile broadband networks. This access is critical throughout the country, including in rural areas."

The group pointed to Americans' growing demands for mobile data, as well as the wireless industry's move toward 5G technology, and argued the trends highlight the need for simple and inexpensive access to high-bandwidth Ethernet services for backhaul connections from wireless cell sites to the wired internet. Sprint and T-Mobile are the nation's two smaller nationwide wireless carriers, behind Verizon and AT&T (NYSE: T). CCA, meanwhile, represents smaller and rural wireless carriers, and Incompas represents a wide variety of network operators and technology vendors.

"These densified networks will require thousands of new cell sites, however, and an increase in dedicated wireline access, including access to large bandwidth Ethernet services of 100 Mbps or more," CCA, Incompas, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular argued in their filing.

The filing was one of many made in recent days on the special access topic. Level 3, Windstream, AT&T and others also argued for various stipulations and changes to the special access market. And Incompas, in a separate filing, urged the FCC to make a move quickly: "Given the current state of the market and the need for the Commission to provide long overdue relief from the current monopoly rents that wireline and wireless competitors are paying for necessary inputs, we urged swift action by the Commission on the Order and Further NPRM and to complete the proceeding by the end of the year," Incompas said.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this month laid out his draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on reworking the nation's special access market, which provides network operators and others access to the nation's core Internet network. Wheeler proposed four key tenets: identifying competitive markets, a technology-neutral approach, encouraging transitions from TDM to IP, and addressing current, future transitions. Additionally, his FRNPM also seeks comment from all interested parties about how best to determine where competition does and does not exist. That includes competition among products, the supply and ability to supply BDS in specific geographies, and the needs of different classes of customers.

Wheeler has set a goal to have the FCC adopt a final order this year; the FCC is scheduled to vote on Wheeler's draft later this month.

Wheeler's proposal came out just days after Verizon and Incompas issued a similar proposal to regulate special access services. Verizon and Incompas are calling for a technology-neutral regulatory regime for special access while advocating compliance with Title II of the Communications Act.

For more:
- see this FCC filing
- see this FCC proceeding

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