Special access lines are dedicated high-capacity connections used by businesses and institutions to transmit their voice and data traffic. For example, wireless providers use special access lines to funnel voice and data from cell towers to wired telephone and broadband networks. Small businesses, governmental branches, hospitals and medical offices, and even schools and libraries use special access for the first leg of communications with the home office. Branch banks and gas stations even use special access for ATMs and credit card readers. The FCC has the obligation to ensure that special access lines are provided at reasonable rates and on reasonable terms and conditions.
The FCC is looking at whether its current special access regulations for the larger traditional phone companies—the “price cap” carriers—should be updated to ensure that the regulations reflect the state of competition today. The FCC’s regulations should promote competition for and economically efficient investment in the dedicated services that businesses rely on to deliver their products and services to American consumers. After a comprehensive evaluation of the relevant data, the FCC will look at revising its rules to provide relief from regulations in those geographic areas where a robust and competitive special access market exists.
To conduct the necessary market analysis, the FCC needs more information from both providers and users of special access services. On December 18, 2012, the Commission released an Order calling for the mandatory collection of data from certain entities subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, that provide or purchase special access services in price cap areas. The FCC will collect information on the full array of traditional special access services, including DS1s and DS3s, and packet-based dedicated services such as Ethernet. Larger entities that provide “best efforts”-grade business broadband Internet access services are also required to provide information to help the FCC assess whether such services are a competitive substitute for special access services.
On September 18, 2013, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released an Order providing instructions for responding to the questions in Appendix A; finalizing the questions for the collection in Appendix B; and clarifying certain aspects of the collection, e.g., which purchasers are required to respond.
The data collection is subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and requires Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval before becoming effective and the FCC can start collecting data. Once approved by OMB, the Bureau will announce the deadline for filing responses. The Bureau plans to release a Protective Order that will provide details on the filing and handling of information considered commercially sensitive and that filers would like the FCC to withhold from public inspection.
Who Must Respond to the Data Collection?
All providers and purchasers of special access services in areas where the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) is subject to price cap regulation must respond to this data collection unless specifically excluded. There is a Map on the FCC’s website depicting the study areas where an ILEC subject to price cap regulation is located to help you determine whether you provide or purchase special access services in a price cap area. In addition to providers and purchasers, entities that provide best efforts business broadband Internet access services in an area where the ILEC is subject to price cap regulation are also required to respond to this data collection unless they have fewer than 15,000 customers and fewer than 1,500 business broadband customers as of December 18, 2012.
Providers that must respond could include, but are not limited to, incumbent local exchange carriers, competitive local exchange carriers, interexchange carriers, cable system operators, fixed wireless service providers (including wireless Internet service providers (WISPs)), terrestrial and satellite mobile wireless service providers, electric utilities, local government entities, certain providers of information services and third party network providers.
Purchasers that must respond could include, but are not limited to, ILECs, competitive local exchange carriers, interexchange carriers, cable system operators, wireless providers, satellite service providers, international service providers to and from points in the United States, interconnected and non-interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) providers, certain information service providers such as Internet access providers, and entities that hold certain private wireless licenses.
In the Order released in September 2013, the Bureau clarified the scope of purchasers to specifically exclude categories of entities that do not provide special access or best efforts business broadband Internet access services, but would otherwise be required to respond to the data collection questions directed at purchasers solely by virtue of holding certain FCC licenses and authorizations. For example, entities holding broadcast licenses under Part 73 of the Commission’s rules, and no other licenses, authorizations or registrations, that purchase – but do not provide – special access services in price cap areas would be excluded. For a full list of the categories of excluded entities, see the “Instructions for Data Collection” contained in Appendix A of the Bureau’s Order.
Certifications from Entities Required to File the Form 477 “Local Telephone Competition and Broadband Reporting.” Even if an entity does not provide or purchase special access services in a price cap area or does not fall within the scope of the reporting requirements for entities providing “best efforts” service, it may have to file a certification with the FCC saying as much if it was required to report broadband connections to end users on the Form 477 “Local Telephone Competition and Broadband Reporting” for 2012. For additional information on this certification requirement, see the “Instructions for Data Collection” contained in Appendix A of the Bureau’s Order.
Request for Comment
In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that accompanied the Commission’s Order in December 2012, the Commission asked for comment on: (1) a proposed market analysis for evaluating the collected data; (2) possible changes to the pricing flexibility rules for the special access services provided by ILECs in price cap areas; and (3) the terms and conditions offered by ILECs for the sale of special access services. Comments and reply comments on the proposed market analysis and terms and conditions were due February 11, 2013 and March 12, 2013, respectively. Comments and reply comments on changes to the pricing flexibility rules are due October 6, 2014 and November 17, 2014, respectively.
Key Commission Releases Related to Special Access for Price Cap Carriers
|Comment and Reply Deadlines PN||March 2014|
|Data Collection Implementation Order||September 2013|
|Data Collection Order and Further Notice||December 2012|
|Pricing Flexibility Suspension Order||August 2012|
|Second Voluntary Data Request PN||September 2011|
|First Voluntary Data Request PN||October 2010|
|Analytical Framework PN||November 2009|
|Record Refresh Request PN||July 2007|
|Special Access NPRM||January 2005|
|CALLS Order||May 2000|
|Pricing Flexibility Order||August 1999|
|LEC Price Cap Order||October 1990|
Forbearance for Non-TDM Special Access Services
|Qwest||August 2008||Embarq and Frontier||October 2007|