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FCC Gives AT&T Partial Forbearance Relief

The FCC late Thursday night partially granted AT&T Inc.s petition for forbearance from rules governing its commercial broadband services.

Perhaps of greatest concern to CLECs is that AT&T can price its commercial broadband services as it sees fit and not share those rates with providers using its networks.

The FCC issued a statement just minutes before the midnight deadline on Oct. 11. If commissioners hadnt made a decision by that time, AT&Ts request would have been deemed granted, as Verizon Communications Inc.s was last year. Instead, commissioners voted 3-2 down party lines to grant AT&Ts petition in part. Democrats Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps called AT&Ts evidence for forbearance altogether underwhelming.

AT&T no longer has to abide by detailed rate obligations. Those include dominant carrier tariff filing, cost support, discontinuance and domestic transfer of control. The company also gets to shed some Title II responsibilities, but that relief applies only to certain broadband services it offers now, such as frame relay, ATM, LAN and Ethernet. It excludes all TDM-based, DS1 and DS3 services.

However, the FCC also established a complaints process, presumably to appease competitive carriers that have lobbied against AT&Ts request. The commission said any complaint made against AT&T would have to be resolved within five months.

The carrier must continue supporting public policy initiatives such as E911 and CALEA.

AT&T last year filed its me too request after the FCC in March 2006 couldnt reach a consensus on Verizons forbearance plea and it was deemed granted because the deadline passed with no vote. No one really knows the extent of the relief Verizon received because the FCC does not issue orders on matters deemed granted. There is a lengthy order regarding AT&Ts relief, however, on the FCCs Web site.

The FCC on Thursday focused solely on AT&Ts petition. It must address others that are pending by Qwest Communications International Inc., EMBARQ Corp., Frontier/Citizens Communications and another from Verizon. Qwest wants the same regulatory relief it got in Omaha in 2005 in four of its key markets Denver, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Seattle because it says it faces intense competition from wireless, cable, IP and other providers.

Verizon has started singing the same tune and wants relief in six of its Northeast markets. The EMBARQ and Frontier/Citizens requests might not be as applicable to CLECs as those from Qwest and Verizon, but they could set precedents that would harm the competitive carrier industry.

Forbearance was the subject of much discussion this week at the COMPTEL convention held in Dallas. Lawyers for competitive providers say the forbearance process is broken and takes advantage of a loophole in the 1996 Telecom Act. The Bells disagree, saying that while laws arent perfect, forbearance is part of the law and they plan to take advantage of it.

COMPTEL is making extra efforts to rally its members to take a stand against Bell forbearance petitions and other anti-competitive actions. The association has hired a second lobbyist consultant to help it reach lawmakers and started a Web site, www.freetocompete.com, to educate consumers and motivate them to call and write their representatives.

The next deadline for the FCC to act on a forbearance petition is Dec. 5. Commissioners will have to address Verizons six-MSA request by midnight or let the plea be deemed granted.

AT&T Inc. www.att.com
COMPTEL www.comptel.org
EMBARQ Corp. www.embarq.com
FCC www.fcc.gov
Frontier/A Citizens Communications Co. www.frontieronline.com
Qwest Communications International Inc. www.qwest.com
Verizon Communications Inc. www.verizon.com


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