FCC to open inquiry on special access fees

The FCC will begin an inquiry into special access fees, which are the fees that carriers without wireline divisions must pay to backhaul their customers' voice and data traffic across their competitors' wireline networks. The move, while just an inquiry, could signal that the commission will look to regulate the special access market, which would pit large telcos like AT&T and Verizon against other companies in the wireless industry.

In a letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that within the next 30 days the commission will issue a notice seeking comment on what would be an "appropriate analytical framework" for looking at the prices in the special access fee market.

Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular and a coalition called No Choke Points (whose members include Clearwire and small, independent LECs such as Covad Communications), claim the interconnection fees are a big barrier to broadband access. Sprint has claimed that one-third of its operating costs for each cell tower are devoted to these fees.

In July, two senior House lawmakers asked the FCC to look at the data carefully before changing rules on special access fees, while Sprint and the coalition pressed the FCC to move forward with an inquiry. AT&T and Verizon have argued in the past that the FCC does not have the right data to find out whether the market is skewed in favor of the big telcos.

"These issues have been pending for many years, and I appreciate the understandable frustration of many parties regarding the commission's lack of progress in addressing special access issues," Genachowski said in the letter. 

The coalition praised the decision by Genachowski to open the inquiry. "This week has been a trifecta for special access, starting with Chairman Genachowki's acknowledgement in his speech to CTIA of the importance of high speed special access connections to the broadband economy, the commission's Public Notice on Middle Mile issued yesterday, and then the chairman's letter to Senator Inouye indicating that the FCC will issue a notice within the next 30 days seeking comment on a framework to address this failed market," said Maura Corbett, the spokeswoman for the No Choke Points coalition.  "We could not be more delighted to see the new FCC taking an such an active and aggressive role in dealing with this long-standing problem."

For more:
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article (sub. req.)

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