What is Special Access?
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.
Special Access Proceeding
The FCC is looking at whether its current special access regulations for the larger traditional phone companies—the “price cap” incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs)—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 August 15, 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the collection as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 subject to changes. On September 15, 2014, the Bureau released an Order on Reconsideration amending the collection to reflect approval received from OMB and announcing the filing deadline for the collection which was extended by a November 26, 2014 Bureau Order.
For a copy of the final version of the data collection questions, click here.
For a copy of the instructions on how to answer the questions, click here.
The last group of Data Submissions was due by February 27, 2015.
Request for Comment
In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that accompanied the FCC’s Order in December 2012, the FCC 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.
In a Public Notice, the Bureau extended the deadlines for filing comments and reply comments on changes to the pricing flexibility rules to January 6, 2016 and February 5, 2016, respectively.
Who Must Respond to the Data Collection?
All providers and purchasers of special access services and certain entities that provide “best efforts” business broadband Internet access services in areas where the ILEC is subject to price cap regulation must respond to this data collection unless specifically excluded. The FCC has prepared a decisional tree diagram to help you determine whether you are required to respond to the collection which is available by clicking here.
Additionally, there is a Price Cap Mapping Tool 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.
Providers that must respond could include, but are not limited to, ILECs, competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), 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 (CLECs), 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. Purchasers that purchased less than $5 million in dedicated services in 2013 in areas where the ILEC is subject to price cap regulation are specifically excluded from the data collection.
Best Efforts Business Broadband Internet Access Service providers that provide best efforts Internet access data service with a bandwidth of at least 1.5 megabits per second upstream and downstream to business customers 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.
In an 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 FCC’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 pages 3-4 of the Instructions for Data Collection.
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” business broadband Internet access 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 2013. For additional information on this certification requirement, see page 71 of the Instructions for Data Collection.
Where do I File my Response?
On October 1, 2014, the Bureau released a Public Notice announcing the launch of the secure special access data collection web portal through which respondents will file data and information in response to the data collection and certifications for those Form 477 filers needing to just certify that they are not covered by the scope of the collection. The special access data collection web portal is available by clicking here.
In addition, the Bureau released a Data Collection Protective Order that provides details on the filing and handling of information considered commercially sensitive and that filers would like the FCC to withhold from public inspection.
The database container necessary for submitting data in response to the special access data collection is available on the Special Access Web Portal, Version 1.2. At this time, you will be able to load your data into the database container; however you are currently unable to upload the database container to the Special Access Web Portal. A technical manual, database container, and .zip file containing a folder with scripts for creating and loading a database container in Oracle can be found at the database container page. Further, a recorded video webcast (mp4 file) from a December 18, 2014 webinar hosted by FCC staff provides a walk-through for the technical aspects of the database container. The latest version of the database container was released on January 8, 2015.
Scheduled Seminars on Data Collection
December 18, 2014 The FCC hosted a webinar providing a walk-through of the database container and discussing the technical aspects of the database container. A link to the video is available below.
November 14, 2014 The Federal Communications Bar Association (FCBA) Wireline Committee held a “brown bag” luncheon on the data collection with FCC staff.
October 30, 2014 The FCC hosted a webinar providing a high-level overview of the collection and opportunity to ask general questions. Below are materials from the event.
Key Commission Releases Related to Special Access for Price Cap Carriers
Forbearance for Non-TDM Special Access Services
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