FCC Reviews SBC's Project Pronto
By Kim Sunderland
In September, the commission approved changes in conditions set for the SBC-Ameritech merger. Those changes allow for SBC to deploy its Project Pronto network, a $6 billion undertaking designed to push more fiber into remote areas within SBC's territory through a separate affiliate.
In October, rising concerns regarding the project caused the commission's staff to say the company's interpretation of the FCC's SBC/Ameritech merger order had to be resolved.
"Upon review of correspondence and other information, I have serious concerns regarding SBC's interpretation of the merger conditions," Carol E. Mattey, deputy chief of the FCC's Common Carrier Bureau (CCB, www.fcc.gov/ccb), wrote to Cassandra Carr, SBC's senior executive vice president of external affairs.
According to Mattey, one concern involves SBC's interpretation that allows SBC's ILECs to perform network planning, engineering, design and assignment services on behalf of SBC's advanced services affiliate (a.k.a. Project Pronto) for only a limited time.
The SBC/Ameritech merger order says that 180 days after the merger closed (April 5, 2000), SBC's ILECs could no longer perform network planning and engineering services for Project Pronto, Mattey said.
Nonetheless, SBC apparently believes it could provide the services beyond the 180-day deadline, and it has been doing so.
"SBC apparently interprets the merger conditions to allow its incumbent LECs to perform such services for the separate affiliate until line sharing is provided to unaffiliated carriers within the same geographic region," Mattey wrote. "This is an incorrect interpretation."
Another interpretation error regards provisioning of advanced services under certain conditions that were the "functional equivalent" of provisioning through a fully operational separate affiliate for a certain period of time, Mattey wrote.
SBC says it read the rules to mean that the functional equivalent provisions are optional.
Not so, Mattey said. In fact, SBC's interpretation would allow its ILECs to provide advanced services well beyond the merger close date. By reading the provisions as optional, SBC's interpretation would delay the benefits of the separate affiliate condition, she added.
In another letter to SBC, Mattey addressed SBC's enhancements to its advanced services OSS, which also are required under the merger order.
To promote rapid deployment of advanced services, the SBC/Ameritech merger order requires SBC to develop and deploy enhancements to its Datagate and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) preordering and ordering interfaces for its OSS used to provide xDSL and other advanced services. To accomplish this, the merger conditions established a three-phase approach.
First, SBC must publish a publicly available Plan of Record that includes an assessment of SBC's existing interfaces, business processes and rules, hardware capabilities, data capabilities and differences, and SBC's plan for developing and deploying enhancements to the relevant interfaces.
Second, SBC must work with CLECs in collaborative sessions "to obtain written agreement" on enhancements identified in the Plan of Record and a change management process, including a "12 month forward-looking view of process changes and a deployment schedule."
Finally, SBC must develop and deploy these enhancements under specific deadlines established in the merger conditions.
But SBC and the CLECs were unable to reach agreement on several issues. In turn, the CLECs have requested that the CCB authorize arbitration to resolve the following issues:
* Whether SBC is required to disclose in its Plan of Record OSS enhancements;
* Whether SBC is required to disclose in its Plan of Record all major network configuration changes under way, under development, or in planning that would require or cause OSS modifications;
* Whether SBC is required to disclose in its Plan of Record all interfaces planned or implemented to support the OSS functions related to xDSL services;
* Whether SBC's future operations in its Plan of Record describes fully all modifications and gives CLECs nondiscriminatory access to loop provisioning information;
* Whether SBC should implement an enhancement to its OSS interfaces that would allow CLECs to skip the loop qualification process for loops up to 12,000 feet or less;
* Whether SBC is required to design its interfaces to have the same levels of integration and real-time flow-through as provided to SBC's retail operations; and
* Whether SBC has an obligation to disclose modifications necessary to support the UNE platform (UNE-P) over line-shared loops.
Generally, SBC argues that arbitration of these items isn't necessary, and that many of the items are outside the scope of the merger conditions.
Nonetheless, Mattey has ordered arbitration on whether the merger conditions require SBC to disclose all major network configuration changes under development or in planning (e.g., Project Pronto) that would require or cause OSS modifications, and on the loop qualification process.
Mattey said that the extent that SBC's Project Pronto has--or will have--an impact on SBC's Datagate and EDI interfaces, should have been addressed in the Plan of Record.
"I authorize arbitration to resolve the question of whether, as of Dec. 6, 1999, modifications to the EDI and Datagate interfaces were in development or planned to accommodate SBC's plans for changes in its network configuration in the following 12-month period," Mattey wrote in her letter. "In the event the answer to this question is yes, the arbitrator should determine whether SBC should provide additional technical documentation to enable CLECs to evaluate the proposed enhancements."
Regarding the loop qualification process, Mattey wants to know whether SBC can deliver an OSS enhancement across its 13-state region that allows CLECs to skip the loop qualification process.
According to the Competitive Telecommunications Association (CompTel, www.comptel.org), competitive carriers want the FCC to include the following in any subsequent order:
* The FCC should require SBC to provide its affiliate with a combination of UNEs rather than a service. This approach allows CLECs to use an established legal framework to resolve disputes that would arise as CLECs transition to the Project Pronto network;
* The FCC should clarify that voice CLECs, using either a platform or loop entry strategy, can partner with data CLECs to provide an integrated voice/data service to end-user customers in the same manner intended by SBC and its affiliate;
* The FCC should reconsider a CompTel assertion that SBC exceeded the scope of its authority during the "transition period" and undertook network planning responsibilities that should have been handled by the affiliate, and not SBC's ILECs; and
* The FCC should require a transition period to ensure that SBC would not, through a failure to implement the ordered conditions, be in a position to offer services over the Project Pronto network that competitive carriers cannot offer because of insufficient access.
"CompTel has followed Project Pronto developments closely because these issues have a direct bearing on the ability of our members and other competitive carriers to compete in the local exchange marketplace," said Jonathan Lee, CompTel's vice president of regulatory affairs.
CompTel also has urged all of SBC's 13 states to individually or jointly initiate Project Pronto precertification audits in reaction to the FCC's previous decision to grant SBC's Project Pronto waiver request. CompTel says that the audits are needed to ensure that new competitors can transition customers onto the Project Pronto network, Lee explained.