After a contentious discussion, the FCC voted yesterday to make it easier for carriers to migrate from legacy voice and data networks to faster, next-generation networks. The decision impacts infrastructure, such as tower, small cell and other deployment. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, said the action will accelerate wireline broadband deployment by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.
Agency officials said its current rules require carriers to adhere to “burdensome” requirements to discontinue a service and notification requirements. “This fixes FCC overreach,” said a Wireline Competition Bureau official, in explaining the Second Report and Order.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr cited his experience last week watching a construction crew in Nebraska replacing lower-speed legacy connections with new fiber deployment, to bring 1gbps capacity to a portion of the state that has only eight residents per square mile. “One of the crews can trench up to five miles of new fiber each day. But in the simplest cases, it can take the FCC months just to process a paperwork and greenlight the work. With today’s decision, we cut that review time in half,” said Carr.
However FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, now the lone Democrat on the panel, opposed the item, saying it falls short. “We had rules that required carriers to educate their customers about network alterations, and those rules simply required them to answer calls about how service might be changed when old facilities were swapped out for new.” With the vote, the agency “guts those basic consumer protections” and “tosses them out,” she said.
Citing a theoretical example of a grandmother who simply wants to know how a carrier’s network change will affect how much her phone service will cost, Rosenworcel said “she wants to understand what will require a new contract, and at what cost.” But now, “the FCC says she doesn’t need her carrier to provide her with this information because she can check the FCC’s Daily Digest and figure it out for herself. Who are we kidding? This is mean.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded, “These reforms can free up billions of dollars, which carriers can devote to building new networks instead of propping up old ones. This is especially important in rural America, where the business case for building broadband is often hard.”
The item links regulatory relief to the provision of high-quality replacement services, which will both encourage the building of modern networks and ensure consumers are protected, he added. The change also streamlines notice procedures for an event that affects all networks, which will help carriers restore service more quickly, following events like hurricanes.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
Published June 8, 2018