USTelecom granted forbearance on ILEC conduit access, 64K voice channels over fiber

The FCC has voted to grant USTelecom's petition to forbear on various legacy telecom regulations governing how traditional ILECs support various TDM services and access to key facilities like conduit to install fiber into buildings to deliver business services.

It grants forbearance on seven issues of statutory requirements applicable to the traditional ILECs, which deliver wholesale service to competitive service providers such as BT, Level 3, Windstream and XO Communications.

In an ex-parte letter to the FCC, USTelecom previously said that "legacy obligations identified in the petition impose on the ability of incumbent LECs to invest in new and upgraded broadband networks that consumers and businesses want."

USTelecom added that by "removing these obligations would allow incumbent LECs to better compete with cable and other networks and that this stronger competition would serve consumers and the public interest."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the industry association applauded the FCC's action as it will allow ILECs to focus on next-gen IP-based networks and services.

"The commission's decision to remove unnecessary rules, such as those tied to outdated definitions making a distinction between local and long-distance service, will enable our industry to better focus on forward-looking investments that will best serve consumers," USTelecom said in a statement. "We are grateful for the FCC's action today, and look forward to continuing to work with the commission to update other antiquated policies that apply only to legacy voice telephone companies, no longer make sense, impede investment in broadband, and inhibit competition with wireless, cable and other technologies."

However, the two issues that have been getting the most attention from CLECs and ILECs have been the unbundling requirement of 64K voice channels and access to fiber conduit, particularly in new buildings. The FCC ruled that ILECs will no longer be required to provide voice grade channels over fiber in an areas where an ILEC has retired copper loops.

Joining USTelecom in its support to forbear from the unbundling rules is Verizon (NYSE: VZ). In a separate earlier filing, Verizon said that the cost to unbundle 64 Kbps voice channels are high for traditional ILECs to maintain. 

The telco said that the "costs of unbundling a 64 kbps voice-grade channel over fiber are real and significant."

Ajit Pai said in giving his approval of the measure that it will give ILECs some certainty to ILECs that want deploy fiber without having to be burdened with legacy copper facilities.

"We embrace the importance of next-generation technologies like fiber by ending the requirement that incumbents unbundle 64 Kbps voice channels when they retire copper," Pai said. "The chief proponent of keeping this requirement has admitted never ordering a channel so the obligation puts the incumbents to Hobson's choice: either they retire the copper and buy expensive equipment to unbundle a channel nobody would ever use or maintain the copper even if no one is using it."

Pai added that "by getting rid of this silly rule, the compliance will be freed up for more fiber deployment."  

Gaining access to conduit has also been a contentious issue for ILECs and CLECs. The FCC gave ILECs relief from being required to grant access to competitors for newly deployed entrance conduit extending from the property line to the commercial buildings. However, it denied USTelecom's request for relief as it would apply to entrance conduit in Brownfield areas.  

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) said in a recent FCC filing that ILECs no longer have an advantage over CLECs when it comes to deploying fiber in Greenfield deployments due to the aggressive last mile build outs by CLECs and cable operators into buildings to serve business customers.

"None of those providers are compelled to share the conduit they deploy, which occurs frequently, particularly in Greenfield situations," CenturyLink said in a letter to the FCC.

Mignon Clyburn said that while she supported the measure overall, she was concerned that "forbearance from certain obligations from access to entrance conduit in certain situations may inadvertently curtain further competition."

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