Qorvis v. AT&T, Verizon: This is going to get ugly

No Choke Points.gif

You’ve got to tip your hat to [Qorvis](http://qorvis.com/) — they really know how to pick a fight. The Washington-based PR and advertising firm, which spearheaded the tech industry’s campaign last year to open access to TV white spaces over the objection of the broadcasters, is now taking on another lobbying goliath: the incumbent telecom providers.

This one’s about pricing for special access services, the fees AT&T, Verizon and others charge smaller carriers for use of their network infrastructure. [Launched this morning](/government/article.php/3826316/Critics+Call+On+FCC+to+Curb+ATT+Verizon+Pricing.htm), the No Choke Points coalition includes carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as a host of other businesses and advocacy groups, led by the crusading Qorvis.

Very simply, the [No Choke Points coalition](http://nochokepoints.org/) is asking the FCC re-regulate special access pricing.

But you don’t think the telcos are going to take this lying down, do you? AT&T held its own media event today to rebut the claims of the new organization. U.S. Telecom, the trade association representing AT&T, Verizon and others, fired back with a statement describing how competition in special access is increasing as prices drop.

Hogwash, cried No Choke Points. The group responded with a myth v. fact sheet aimed at “unraveling [the] U.S. Telecom spin.”

The way they tell it, they’ve submitted all the data the FCC needs to rule against these predatory pricing schemes, and it’s the big telcos that are obfuscating. Prices are rising and competition is non-existent.

An excerpt:

> MYTH: If NoChokepoints wins, consumers lose because network investment will be discouraged
> Fact: You guessed it — wrong.
> – AT&T and Verizon have become consumer advocates. Really? You can’t be serious.
> – And in fact, AT&T’s and Verizon’s own data filed with the FCC show that they invested more when they were more heavily regulated (1997-2001) than they did after the FCC started deregulating them in 2002 (these are their figures for “plant additions” filed in the FCC’s ARMIS database).
> – AT&T and Verizon should stick with what they do best — overcharging consumers and Coalition members like Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation, MAP and US PIRG — or, separately, the Small Business Administration should attest to the devastating impact of this market abuse on U.S. consumers.


Meanwhile, AT&T submitted an ex parte filing to the FCC today, urging the commission to leave special access pricing alone, and accusing penny-pinching Sprint of trying to free ride on the labor and investment of the big boys so it doesn’t have to build out its own network.

AT&T points to the broadband providers that are expanding their own infrastructure, weaning themselves off of the special access services of the incumbents and introducing competition in the market. Firms like FiberTower, Level3 and the reconstituted Clearwire (a firm in which Sprint holds a dominant interest), have all been investing heavily in cell towers and fiber for high-speed data services.

AT&T says that it’s doing its part, claiming that it will invest more in capital expenditures in 2009 than any other publicly traded company.

But Sprint, AT&T maintains, is moving in the opposite direction, slashing capital expenditure while leaning on regulators to make it more cheaper to tap into the infrastructure being built on someone else’s dime.

“Recognizing that ubiquitous broadband deployment is a strategic, national imperative for policymakers, Sprint and others have sought to hitch to the broadband wagon their demands for government-mandated reductions in ILEC (incumbent local exchange carrier) special access rates and a return to monopoly era, rate-of-return price regulation of such services,” James Cicconi, AT&T’s top lobbyist, wrote in the filing. “Far from being the panacea for broadband deployment they claim, these parties’ regulatory prescription would only weaken broadband infrastructure providers’ incentives and ability to invest in a next-generation broadband America — if not kill them altogether.”

But isn’t this bigger than just AT&T versus Sprint? After all, No Choke Points warns us that, “AT&T and Verizon want to trick you into thinking this is some old industry food fight among telephone companies.”

And, don’t forget: “The truth is that special access IS broadband, but AT&T and Verizon are really hoping you don’t notice.”

Last November, after several months of posturing in near-daily e-mails delivered to reporters and anyone else who would listen, Qorvis won the white spaces fight, having convinced (under the aegis of the Wireless Innovation Alliance) the FCC that the broadcasters’ equally voluminous dispatches warning that the new devices would interfere with everything from TV broadcasts to services in mega-churches were overblown.

Are we headed for a repeat performance?

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