That Overpriced Telecom Market You Never Heard Of? The FCC’s Taking It On This Month.

Image courtesy of jpghouse

You know how literally just yesterday we shared a report about the mostly-hidden, crazy-monopolistic, vastly important special access market, and all the money it costs everyone? Well, the FCC is really truly on it, the commission announced today.

A blog post from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler sets out plainly what studies and anecdotal reports — and the FCC’s own ten-year-long investigation — have shown: it is seriously time to update the way this business market is handled.

To that end, Wheeler’s office has circulated an NPRM among the other commissioners and their staffs this week aiming to tackle those special access services, with a plan to actually bring them into the 21st century.

MORE: No, Seriously, What The Heck Is ‘Special Access’?

For starters, “special access” itself is gone. The term in use is now “business data services,” which is a lot more accurate to what the issue at play actually is. And perhaps most importantly, the term — like the plan the FCC will introduce around it — is technology-neutral. That means that both the limitations and also the protections built into what comes next will be designed to apply equally to copper wires, fiber networks, cable networks, wireless services, and whatever the next new! improved! technology to come down the road may be.

“If we want to maximize the benefits of business data services for U.S. consumers and businesses, we need a fresh start,” Wheeler writes. “The marketplace is changing. Cable companies are entering the market, and Internet Protocol (IP)-based technologies can now deliver services traditionally satisfied by legacy, circuit-based products. Yet, competition remains uneven, with competitive carriers reaching less than 45 percent of locations where there is demand.”

And when telecom competition is busted, well, the FCC is there. Or at least tries to be.

The general goals Wheeler says his proposal asks for input on are:

  • Competition: how can the FCC figure out which markets are competitive already, and then do something about the ones that aren’t?
  • Tech neutrality: rules can’t be different for copper and for cable when they serve the same purpose to subscribers.
  • The future: seriously, copper wire is so last century. Incentivize upgrades.

This particular document is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM. That’s the one that says, “hey! We want to make a rule about [X], so here are the questions we are going to consider and the data we are going to use in so doing, so please submit public comments on these questions.” In the FCC’s process, that comes months (or years) before a Rule or Order, which is the final step that actually creates and adopts a regulation or law.

That said, Wheeler does write that he hopes “the Commission move forward to adopt a final Order in 2016,” which puts a pretty tight timeline — conveniently, before any looming change in presidential administration — on the proceeding.

The commission will variously stake their claims, announce their support, and/or air their grievances about the proposal at the April open meeting, at the end of the month.