Competitors Rail Against Alleged SBC Abuses

According to its officials, an ever-expanding list of abuses has forced the
Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLEC) Association of Michigan to file
a complaint Friday over supposed unfair and monopolistic practices of SBC
Communications and its subsidiary, Ameritech.

Rick Coy, general counsel for the Michigan organization at Clark Hill PLC,
said the complaint to the Michigan Public Service Commission is the last
resort of failed talks with the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) to
open up the telephone network to fair and competitive digital subscriber
line (DSL) and telephone service.

“You always try to work something out with the carrier before going to the
extent of filing a complaint like this, its always the last resort,” Coy
said. “Just by the fact that it had to be filed shows you that competitive
carriers have exhausted all possibilities and are really wringing their
hands in frustration in dealing with the incumbents on these issues.”

The 500-page report poses a bevy of abuses against SBC and Ameritech,
namely complaints of falsifying service and stifling advanced data services
competition, like DSL, by providing poor service and support to its competitors. According to CLECA of Michigan officials, that’s a violation
of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a piece of legislation that regulated
the ILECs actions when dealing with competitors on its network.

Brad Kruse, president of the CLECA of Michigan and general counsel at
SBC/Ameritech rival McLeodUSA, said a quick resolution is necessary to
prevent the slide in regulatory enforcement.

“Companies are limited in the service they can provide in Michigan because
of SBC/Ameritech’s actions, and the pace of competition is slowing,” Kruse
said. “SBC/Ameritech is unilaterally setting telecommunications policy in
Michigan, disregarding the rulings of regulators and the policies set by
legislators alike, while blocking competition.”

Competitive telephone carriers are asking for the Public Service Commission to approve the following:

  • An audit of SBC/Ameritech service reports; in the event of abuses, the
    association is asking the PSC to take measures to prevent future abuses

  • Ordering SBC/Ameritech to remove restrictions on broadband service
    options, namely providing DSL provisioning price incentives to competitors
    who agree not to provide local telephone services in that area.

  • Reopening anti-competitive telephone contracts with SBC/Ameritech
    business clients, without threat of penalties in the event they switch

  • Resume providing billing information to CLECs to properly bill their
    customers (In September, SBC/Ameritech stopped providing that information
    to CLECs, who had to guess at the amount to charge their customers).

Steve Kauffman, SBC spokesperson, downplayed the severity of the charges,
saying the charges are unsubstantiated and that competitors make up roughly
16 percent (or 1.1 million for SBC/Ameritech’s five million lines served)
of the telecommunications industry in Michigan.

“What we can see from the file — we haven’t seen the full report yet — is
that we don’t see any facts or any evidence to support this (complaint),”
Kauffman said. “What we have shows that the competition in Michigan has
increased 60 percent every year.

Kauffman added that independent auditing firm KPMG has been reviewing
SBC/Ameritech activities the past month as part of its bid to apply for
long distance services in Michigan early next year. No mention was made of
KPMG findings.

Coy said the filing is a long time coming, a process that had to be cut
short because competitive carrier complaints kept stockpiling and the
resolution process at the PSC is, by nature, very time consuming.

“What we’ve found is that more and more carriers had more and more issues
to raise and we had to just group it into a dozen or so areas or we would
never have gotten it completed,” he said. “Generally, Michigan PSC has a
good track record. It’s a problem of the timetable between the way
government works and the way business works. The marketplace goes very,
very fast while government policy and decisions are made at a very
methodical pace, so they don’t match up very well.”

Friday’s complaint is the latest in a raft of complaints filed by SBC
competitors around the nation. Many claim the nation’s second largest Bell
is slowly and methodically squeezing the competition out of its market
using stalling tactics at the Federal Communications Commission and at the
state public utilities commissions and PSC, where telecommunications
standards are enforced.

Last month, talks between an association of California Internet service
providers and SBC/Pacific Bell collapsed after SBC filed for non-dominant carrier status with the state PUC. If
allowed to move forward as a non-dominant carrier, SBC would be able to
provide long-distance telephony services in the state, despite its control
of 70 percent of the DSL services there.

Critics at the California ISP Association broke off talks abruptly after
the SBC announcement and reminded California PUC officials of its pending
complaint against the ILEC.

Earlier this year, advocate group CompTel sent a letter to the FCC asking
it to look into false testimony provided by SBC in its bid to provide
long distance telephone service in Kansas and Oklahoma.

News Around the Web