The Federal Communications Commission last week issued a ruling that essentially requires rural telcos to interconnect with telecompetitors.
“Our decision will promote competition and spur investment in communications networks and services, particularly in rural areas, by encouraging the deployment of facilities-based voice services,” said the FCC in its decision. “The decision will also give competitors the opportunity to offer ‘triple-play’ services (voice, video and data) by providing interconnection with incumbent carriers in the same area.”
The move came in response to a request made by Time Warner Cable and its wholesale provider CRC Communications. Those companies asked the FCC to pre-empt a decision made by the Maine Public Utilities Commission which exempted Oklahoma Western Telephone Company, a rural carrier operating in the state, from interconnecting with the competitors.
At issue was whether state PUCs can exempt rural carriers from interconnecting with competitors if to do so would be “economically burdensome” for the rural telco. The question previously had come before PUCs in several states, some of which had ruled in favor of the rural telcos, others of which had ruled in favor of telecompetitors.
Parties on both sides of such disputes pointed to Section 251 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to support their view. Section 251 describes several interconnection requirements and also includes a provision for rural carriers to be exempted from certain requirements if the state PUC determines that it would be economically burdensome for the rural carrier to meet those requirements. Where competitors and rural telcos disagreed was over which interconnection requirements were eligible for the potential rural exemption.
“We reaffirm that all telecommunications carriers, including rural carriers . . . have a basic duty to interconnect their networks,” the FCC said.
The FCC also ruled that requests made to incumbent LECs for interconnection are subject to state commission arbitration, as well as to “voluntary negotiation remedies, including mediation by the state commission.”
Time Warner Cable issued a statement applauding the FCC decision. “This ruling will help eliminate entry barriers and promote increased voice competition and broadband deployment not only in Maine but in rural areas throughout the country,” the company said.