Requests by AT&T and Windstream, a telecommunications firm founded in 2006 through the merger of Alltel's landline division and Valor Communications, to deregulate special access pricing in the San Francisco-Oakland, Calif., metro area and in San Antonio, Texas, were granted Monday.
The requests were the subject of intensive lobbying by AT&T on one side, and a group of smaller telecoms and some purchasers of special access services who make their case under the banner of the No Chokepoints Coalition.
Special access is the catchall term for back end network connections between main telecommunications lines and individual commercial buildings.
These connections are typically controlled by established telecoms, known in the jargon as incumbent local exchange carriers or ILECs. More recent entrants to local telecommunications markets (competitive local exchange carriers, or CLECs) have to lease these lines in order to provide service to their commercial clients.
In some markets, special access rates are tightly regulated; in markets where certain competitive conditions are met, rates are unregulated. The data that go into setting these triggers are the subject of a long-standing dispute between the ILECs and the CLECs.
Additionally, the incumbent providers claim that as telecommunications infrastructure transitions to new, Internet protocol-based infrastructure, that disputes over old broadband connections are anachronistic.
The AT&T and Windstream petitions were bound up with a bid by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to make changes to the way special access services are regulated. Genachowski's proposal would have put a halt to grants of price flexibility in individual metro areas, while the FCC came up with a new way to measure competitiveness in special access markets.
The measure was not officially voted up or down by the FCC. Commission insiders explained that the Chairman could not compel a vote because the item was not on an open meeting agenda. Adding to the bureaucratic jujitsu, special FCC rules automatically grant deregulation petitions if they are not voted on within a specified time frame.
Change to special access rules appear to be in the offing, according to a senior FCC official in the chairman's office, now that the AT&T and Windstream petitions have been granted.
In an e-mailed statement the official said, "pursuant to ongoing discussions we expect the Commission will soon vote on an order setting out a path to reform [special access rules]. As part of this path forward, we expect the Commission will also soon issue a mandatory, comprehensive data request, to collect the necessary data from incumbent and competitive providers."