Qwest Communications International Inc. this week re-filed its controversial forbearance request for relief from last-mile broadband connection rules.
The filing came nearly a week after Qwest withdrew its original petition because the FCC couldnt reach a consensus on the matter during its monthly meeting.
Qwest submitted its new request a day after a group of competitive telcos asked the FCC to make some changes to the forbearance process, charging that, without such procedural adjustments, incumbent providers will imperil competition.
XO Communications, Cavalier Telephone & TV, McLeodUSA Inc., Covad Communications and NuVox on Wednesday asked the FCC to immediately adopt rules governing forbearance proceedings. Over the past two years, the FCC has given Bell and rural incumbent providers sweeping relief from government-mandated pricing and network access, safeguards put in place by the 1996 Telecom Act to promote competition. The incumbents spotted the forbearance loophole in the act and have used it to their advantage. Two of the biggest instances were Qwests relief from certain regulations in the Omaha, Neb., market; and Verizon Communications Inc.s relief from rules overseeing its business broadband services.
The group wants the FCC to impose a number of rules including procedural requirements to ensure that all forbearance proceedings include adequate comment and review time; requiring petitioners to submit all evidence providing forbearance is necessary and still in the public interest; preventing petitioners from filing critical information at the last minute, when it is too late for other parties to comment; and making sure the FCC issues a written order within a week of granting or denying a forbearance petition. The agency has not issued written orders of the forbearance petitions it has granted; this leaves everyone but the company involved in the dark as to the extent of the relief.
The commission and the courts cannot retreat from their responsibility to enforce pro-competitive policy and allow the Bells to dismantle the Telecom Act piece by piece, said Heather Gold, senior vice president of external affairs at XO. The commission needs to step up to its job of ensuring choice for consumers before it is too late. One essential element of that job is the adoption of procedural rules that govern forbearance.
There are two key Bell petitions pending at the FCC. Verizon wants relief in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, R.I., and Virginia Beach, Va. The nations second-largest phone company has cited the FCCs approval for Qwest in Omaha as a template for its request. Qwest also has petitions for forbearance pending in Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix and Seattle.
Qwest used forbearance to undermine competition in Omaha, and now Verizon and Qwest are using the same tactic in major markets throughout the nation, said William Haas, vice president and deputy general counsel for McLeodUSA.
Verizon and Qwest maintain that forbearance is warranted because they face intense competition from cable, VoIP and even CLEC providers in their biggest markets.
The debate over forbearance is growing more heated as fall approaches. The FCC is set to decide whether to continue deregulating telecom; first up, a series of incumbent requests for providing broadband services on a private carriage basis.
Cavalier Telephone www.cavtel.com
Qwest Communications Ineternational Inc. www.qwest.com
Verizon Communications Inc. www.verizon.com
XO Communications www.xo.com