EarthLink, MegaPath Among Competitors Aiming to Unite Before FCC

Cbeyond, EarthLink and Megapath are all hoping to present a unified voice in Washington, D.C., on issues that affect the competitive telecommunications market, including access to networks controlled by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications, Inc.

“We are going to focus on maintaining and regaining our rights under the Telecom Act to access network facilities, essentially last mile loops under reasonable rates and conditions,” MegaPath Assistant General Counsel Tony Hansel told Channel Partners. “The members each represent themselves but are working jointly as a coalition towards their common goals.”

The Broadband Coalition was announced last month in a press release, although the announcement was somewhat curious because none of the member companies were actually named.

“We’re working hard to broaden our coalition and we really look forward to engaging on these issues,” said Debra Reed, a spokesperson for the group.

Chris Murray, senior vice president of public policy with coalition member EarthLink, underscored that the coalition isn’t meant to supplant COMPTEL, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents competitive communications service providers. Most or all of the members belong to COMPTEL, he said.

“This is not meant to be a trade association,” Murray said. “This is meant to be an advocacy tool … to have another voice for competition in telecom policy.”

Gail Norris, a COMPTEL spokesperson, told Channel Partners that COMPTEL is working with the coalition.

“The broadband policies being advocated by this coalition are similar to those that COMPTEL has been advocating for many years,” she said in an email.

The Broadband Coalition has the support of Chip Pickering, the former congressman who served as a Republican from Mississippi. Pickering is expected to be a spokesperson for the coalition, although he was not immediately available for an interview to discuss his precise role in the organization.

“The goal of this coalition is to highlight the incredible amount of innovation and investment that has been made in the business broadband market by the competitive providers and to also address some of the key policy issues before the administrative agencies,” said Cbeyond co-founder Julia Strow, who is vice chairman of COMPTEL’s board of directors and a consultant to Cbeyond, EarthLink and Lumos Networks.

The organization also is expected to have some kind of role advocating before Congress.

Hansel of MegaPath explained one of the practical benefits of such an organization. If there is a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission, he said, several coalition members would meet together with the agency.

“The coalition is a way to better coordinate our efforts,” he said.

Special access is one of the issues that the coalition is likely to tackle. Competitors buy special access circuits from the likes of AT&T and Verizon to do such things as carry data to the Internet and serve high-volume business customers. Although the FCC commenced a comprehensive proceeding on its special access regulations in January 2005, the agency still hasn’t concluded the matter with a spate of new rules.

“We all have networks all around the country,” Murray said, referring to the coalition members. “We need to ensure communications policy keeps networks interconnected.”

Several other competitive local exchange carriers may be involved in the coalition as well, although a number of relatively large CLECs did not respond to Channel Partners’ requests for comment.

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