FCC Rejects Fones4All Petition

Advocates of the competitive telecom industry are decrying the FCCs denial of Fones4Alls year-old petition for relief from rules stemming from the Triennial Review and Remand Order (TRRO).

Late last week, the FCC turned down the CLECs request that it be able to more easily access incumbents network elements, so it could provide subsidized basic phone service to low-income users taking part in the commissions Lifeline program. The Lifeline program provides eligible subscribers with discounts off the monthly cost of telephone service for one line in their homes. The FCC reasoned that forbearance from the rules in question would not give Fones4All the relief it sought, deeming the petition procedurally defective. Commissioners also said the petition did not meet certain criteria for forbearance.

Another technicality played into the FCCs thinking. Both Democratic commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein consented to the decision, not because they disagreed with Fones4All, but because they did not want the carriers request to go into effect by default. Copps and Adelstein earlier this year were infuriated when the FCC granted Verizon Communications Inc.s request for forbearance from certain rules applying to its DSL services that action occurred because Chairman Kevin J. Martin could not get a majority consensus on the matter, and the forbearance automatically went into effect when the commission did not act in time.

While he said he is concerned the FCC has not done all it can to encourage providers to target low-income consumers, Adelstein noted, I cannot support a default grant of this petition. The petition seeks relief from rules that do not reflect the balance I would have struck, but the public, the industry, and this commission are far better served when we make decisions through reasoned fact-finding and analysis.

Similarly, Copps said, I am unwilling to permit a default judgment to become new communications law. I therefore concur in this order, not because the rules in place are of my choosing or my liking, nor because I agree with the analysis in the order, but because sound policy dictates that rules are to be created or forborne from through reasoned decisions made by this commission.

Copps and Adelstein also both cited numbers showing that only about one-third of U.S. citizens are eligible for the Lifeline subsidies, and wondered whether such a small number should merit the exemption Fones4All had requested.

Not surprisingly, Fones4All said it was extremely disappointed with the FCCs ruling and, in a statement, said the decision means hundreds of thousands of Americas poorest and most overlooked citizens will continue to be denied access to basic telephone service.

These hard-working Americans deserve the same access to basic telephone service that most people in the United States take for granted, and they deserve the opportunity to have carriers compete for their business, said Bettina Cardona, president of Fones4All. As a result of this decision, low-income Americans will be forced to rely on the incumbent monopolies to serve them, something that they have shown little interest in doing, as evidenced by the falling telephone penetration rates in this country.

Competitive carrier association COMPTEL sided with Fones4All and chastised Copps and Adelstein for committing a huge disservice to the public when their principle gives Chairman Martin and Commissioner [Deborah T.] Tate the sole ability to decide which forbearance petitions are granted, said Earl Comstock, president and CEO. The effect of this principle is heads I win, tails you lose for the two commissioners supporting a grant of the petition when the commission is deadlocked. This outcome is far worse than each commissioner voting for or against each petition on the merits, even if that results in a default grant.

New Republican commissioner Robert M. McDowell did not vote on the matter, and the FCC did not say why.


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