Bells Assemble Teams to Scrutinize Federal Order

The regional Bell operating companies have assigned teams of lawyers and other executives to examine a federal order that will shape the future of the telecommunications industry.

The Bells are preparing for the moment the Federal Communications Commission releases a 600-page document governing new telephone and broadband rules.

“We do not usually go to this level of planning,” says BellSouth Corp. spokesman Bill McCloskey.

A source familiar with the matter said Friday the 600-page order should be released in about a week.

BellSouth has assigned 21 teams in the federal regulatory department to examine various aspects of the so-called Triennial Review order. BellSouth hopes to release a statement within a few hours after evaluating the dissenting remarks of FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, McCloskey says. Powell was in the minority on the adoption of new wholesale telephone and broadband rules.

About 25 people from the legal department and federal regulatory group of Verizon Communications Inc. will initially read the order, says Dee May, executive director, federal regulatory.

FCC commissioners voted in February on adopting new rules, but they only issued a press release and four-page attachment that raised more questions than answers.

Within 24 hours Verizon will “have a pretty good read as to whether it’s pretty close to the original media release and whether or not we identify anything that is a little bit new or different than what we expected,” May says.

Once Verizon gets a copy, May adds, there will be “an around-the-clock evaluation.” The legal and federal regulatory teams will “probably be working through the night initially” to compile a summary for the management.

Phone companies competing with the Bells have fewer resources at their disposal. At Z-Tel Communications Inc. about four people will initially read the order, says Tom Koutsky, vice president of law and public policy. However, trade groups and other organizations representing competitive phone companies, such as the PACE (Promoting Active Competition Everywhere) Coalition, will help in scrutinizing the new rules.

“We are sitting in a bunch of ambiguity with the [FCC] press release. The order is going to answer a lot of ambiguity,” Koutsky says. “It’s going to create some more ambiguity.”

The order does not become effective until it is published in the Federal Register. That should happen about a week or two after the FCC releases it.

The FCC will make the order available on its Web site, but some regulatory officials expect a huge traffic jam because the entire industry is waiting to see the new rules.

“Everybody in the world is going to be looking for copies of this,” says May.

FCC spokesman Michael Balmoris says the order will be posted on the home page of the Web site and linked to its Daily Digest, which provides a synopsis of FCC orders, news releases, speeches, public notices and all other documents. Companies also will be able to obtain hard copies at FCC headquarters.

Friday could be that day.

Some regulatory officials say the FCC has a history of releasing orders on Fridays.

“I think it’s likely to come out on Friday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” says McCloskey. “They always do that.”

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