RealTime IT News

SBC High Tails Fiber Buildout

WASHINGTON -- Within an hour of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) vote today to further free incumbent carriers from line sharing obligations with competitors, SBC Communications said it would "dramatically accelerate" its plan to build a new fiber-optics network.

The FCC decision added fiber-to-the-curb (FTTC) networks to the list of high-speed lines the Baby Bells do not have to lease at regulated prices to long distance carriers and competitive local exchange carriers . In early 2003, the FCC ruled incumbent fiber-optic lines, including fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks, did not have to be unbundled to competitors.

FTTC networks run fiber lines to within 500 feet of a customer's home. According to the FCC, the new rules allow companies to choose between FTTH or FTTC networks based on "marketplace characteristics, rather than disparate regulatory treatment."

The FCC also ruled that incumbents are not obligated to build traditional telephone architectures, such as time division multiplexing (TDM) into new packet-based networks or into existing networks that never had TDM capability.

The vote prompted SBC to announce it would provide 18 million households with high-speed services during the next two to three years, rather than the five years the company originally projected for the project. Known as Project Lightspeed, SBC will provide integrated IP-based television, ultra-high-speed broadband, IP voice and wireless bundles of products and services.

"The shovel is in the ground, and we are ready to go," SBC Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. said in a statement. "Rational rules promote innovation and investment in new networks and services for consumers. And so with this positive policy movement, the delivery of next-generation broadband and video services is no longer at some distant point in the future. The future is now."

SBC said it would deploy 38,800 miles of fiber at a cost of $4 billion to $6 billion. The company said the rollout would double the amount of miles deployed for its DSL network.

An SBC spokesperson said the company decided to increase the pace of its new fiber rollout less on the line sharing provisions vote than on the TDM decision. "That clarifies to us we don't have to unbundle," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said SBC plans to install FTTH in new developments and fiber-to-the-node to existing copper wire customers. According to SBC, this means bringing the fiber loop to within 5,000 feet of groups of 300 to 500 homes.

The FCC decision was in response to a petition filed last year by BellSouth and SureWest Communications asking the agency to reconsider portions of its 2003 Triennial Review Order to include FTTC as exempt from unbundling obligations.

"Deep fiber networks offer consumers a triple play of voice, video and data services and an alternative to cable," FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said. "By limiting the unbundling obligations of incumbents when they roll out deep fiber networks to residential consumers, we restore the marketplace incentives of carriers to invest in new networks."

Powell said the decision to limit the unbundling obligations of the incumbents is a "proven success in driving the deployment of next-generation broadband."

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps sharply disagreed with Powell in voting against the measure, claiming that expanding the FTTH exemption to FTTC restricts broadband competition to consumers.

"The [FTTC] loop represents the prized last mile of communications. Putting it beyond the reach of competitors can only entrench incumbents who already hold sway," said Copps. "Monopoly control of the last mile created all kinds of problems for basic telephone service in the last century, and now we seem bent on replicating that sad story for advanced services in the digital age."

Copps warned that the decision "constitutes an ominous precedent for the small business community. Neither does it bode well for independent providers of VoIP services that don't own or control the physical layer of the network."

SBC's Whitacre said in his statement, "The path forward is much clearer. This is the latest in a series of broadband rulings that demonstrate this administration and the FCC understand that keeping outdated regulation off of tomorrow's technology will boost jobs, investment and innovation."