Regulatory Session to Explore UNEs, VoIP, Intercarrier Compensation and BPL

Policy buffs should not miss a half-day seminar Thursday, Feb. 17 exploring three critical developments in Washington related to unbundled network elements, IP voice, intercarrier compensation and BPL.

The seminar presented by the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP will partly examine how new federal network unbundling rules will affect competitive carriers. Representatives from Birth Telecom, NuVox Communications and XO Communications Inc. are slated to examine rules that govern a transition away from government-mandated network elements and explore the protections that remain available in individual carrier interconnection agreements.

The FCC voted in December to phase out rules allowing discounted wholesale access to the residential networks controlled by BellSouth Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

Competitors have one year to leave the so-called UNE platform, which AT&T Corp., MCI Inc. and other local phone companies use to sell analog service to residential and small business customers over the Bell networks. The transition applies to existing customer bases and forbids UNE-P providers from adding new customers under the old regulations.

New rules also affect the circumstances under which competitive telecom providers can access the Bell networks at UNE rates to support larger business customers.

A separate panel will explore how recent regulatory rulings and pending proceedings involving IP services are likely to affect carriers and IP service providers. Representatives of Covad Communications Co. Group Inc., MCI Inc., Millar Isar and XO are representing the panel.

Federal regulators ruled in November that the poster child for Internet phone service Vonage Holdings Corp. is not subject to traditional state telecom rules. The commission also said it likely would block state regulation for companies offering services that share similar characteristics to Vonages DigitalVoice.

State public utility commissions, including California, Minnesota and New York, have asked federal appeals courts to review the FCC order. The ruling represented a victory for the maturing Internet phone industry, but it left unanswered several crucial questions facing the industry.

Among the questions: Whether and how Internet phone companies should contribute to billions of dollars in federal subsidies and pay access charges, the fees long-distance carriers pay local phone companies to complete calls.

The New York State Department of Public Service says it is seeking an appeal because the FCC does not address such important issues as intercarrier compensation, universal service and emergency 911.

I wish to make clear, however, that I am directing this appeal not to assert a traditional regulatory role, but rather because the order leaves unanswered several very important questions critical to the competitive policies that this state has advocated, New York State DPS Chairman William Flynn stated in a Jan. 7 letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

The third panel will tackle a multibillion-dollar question lingering at the FCC: How will federal regulators revise rules governing payments between carriers to complete calls? Representatives from KMC Telecom and Level 3 Communications Inc. will examine the anticipated release of the FCCs intercarrier compensation rulemaking proceeding and discuss alternative solutions to revising the rules.

A panel addressing the regulatory issues associated with BPL also is scheduled, with speakers from EarthLink and Fonix Telecom.

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