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Consumer Groups Urge Restoring Broadband Line Sharing

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), along with 21 state and local consumer organizations in 14 states across the nation, is urging Congress to reverse a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision that relieves the regional Bell operating companies from sharing their copper lines for high-speed broadband services.

In a letter sent to Congress Wednesday, the groups argue that the FCC's decision to eliminate line sharing could have a "devastating impact on the future of America's telecommunication's networks by undermining competition for broadband services, and impeding the deployment of high speed data technology."

The groups are asking Congress to encourage the FCC to grant state regulators the ability to determine whether line sharing requirements should be continued, based on an evaluation of broadband competition in their individual markets. A number of states already have line sharing rules on the books and, according to the groups, New York and Texas are likely to enact line sharing rules shortly. The rules will be repealed if the FCC's order stands.

In February, a sharply divided FCC ruled the Bells will no longer have to share their high-speed fiber lines with broadband competitors but also decided the Bells would have to continue to share their local voice copper lines, except for high-speed services.

In ruling for the Bells' to close their advanced networks to competitors, the FCC hopes to spark competition in the broadband sector, putting the Bells on equal footing with the cable companies. FCC Chairman Michael Powell has long contended competition will come from competing platforms, including satellite and wireless, and not from allowing broadband service providers to use the existing facilities of incumbent carriers.

Powell, however, favored forcing the Bells to continue sharing their copper lines for high-speed services.

During a Feb. 23 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Powell, stated that line-sharing "has given birth to facilities-based competitive broadband telecommunications carriers and has provided a valuable source of inputs for broadband ISPs. The result has been lower prices for broadband users and, as a result, increased demand."

Before line sharing came into widespread use, there were virtually no residential DSL lines in service, and broadband Internet service was out of reach to the vast majority of consumers. Today, there are more than 6 million residential DSL lines in service, and more and more consumers are signing up. Approximately 40 percent of DSL service rides on lines leased from the incumbent Bell companies.

"We're just getting to the point where consumers from Boston to Bakersfield are starting to realize the benefits of high-speed broadband access," said Mark Cooper, director of research for the CFA. "This is not the time for the FCC to start dismantling line sharing or other such initiatives that promote the spread and adoption of broadband technology across America."

The letter to Congress adds, "The existing line-sharing provisions are particularly important to consumers because they allow competitive digital subscriber line (DSL) providers to deliver high-speed Internet access and services to consumers and small businesses across the country. This competition encourages the deployment of broadband, promotes innovation, and helps to raise service standards and lower prices."