FCC Agrees to Forbearance Review as Verizon Vote Looms

The FCC on Nov. 30 said it will examine whether the forbearance petition process needs new rules.

The notice came just days before the agency is slated to vote on Verizon Communications Inc.s request for sweeping regulatory relief in six northeastern markets. That Dec. 5 decision is crucial for several reasons. For one thing, it will indicate how far the FCC will let incumbents go in their quests for deregulation. Interestingly, industry rumor the past several weeks has indicated that commissioners will reject Verizons request on grounds that it is too broad.

But if competitive carriers had their way, the use of forbearance wouldnt have reached this point. A group of CLECs in September asked the FCC to immediately adopt procedural rules to govern the forbearance petition process. They said petitioners often file incomplete documents that they later change, sometimes at the last minute so objectors dont have time to respond. They also charged that not being able to view confidential information eliminates the chance to ask important questions of petitioners requests. The FCC now is seeking comments on the forbearance process, but not in time for Wednesdays Verizon deadline.

Still, competitors welcomed the FCCs move.

“Rules are urgently needed to ensure proper regulatory governance of the forbearance statute, which some parties have tried to exploit as a loophole in the Telecom Act, said Heather Gold, senior vice president of external affairs for XO Communications. The FCC is on the right path, acting in the public interest to safeguard the competitive, pro-consumer intent of the Telecom Act.”

XO is one of the CLECs most public in the forbearance fight.

FCC Commissioners Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell seemed to agree with XOs stance. They all said in prepared statements that the forbearance process is flawed and needs to be fixed. Chairman Kevin Martin didnt provide comments and Deborah Tate skirted the process question when she simply said the forbearance petition is an integral part of the pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework established by Congress in the 1996 Act.

What Happens on Wednesday

The FCC, by midnight this Wednesday, is set to vote on one of the most controversial forbearance requests, which was submitted last year by Verizon. The company wants to be free of UNE requirements in six of its major metro markets Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, R.I., and Virginia Beach, Va.

Thats the same relief the FCC gave Qwest in 2005 in Omaha, Neb., and Qwest now is asking for ditto deregulation in four of its other key regions Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., Phoenix and Seattle.

The 12-month deadline for Qwests request is April 27, but it could be extended by 90 days, typical of these proceedings.

Both Qwest and Verizon contend they face pressure from wireline CLECs, wireless, VoIP, cable and fixed wireless providers, enough pressure to merit a loosening of the rules.

Qwest Communications International Inc.
Verizon Communications Inc.
XO Communications

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