Consumers Call for Review of FCC Broadband Rules

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumers Union (CU), two of the nation’s largest consumer organizations, are asking Congress for an “extensive review” of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent broadband policy decisions, claiming FCC policy is “being formulated with little public discussion and debate and absolutely no economic analysis.”

In a joint letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, the CFA and CU contend that if FCC policy is not changed, “for the first time in our history the dominant means of communications could end up operated by private carriers on a closed, proprietary basis with no obligations to interconnect, interoperate, or provide non-discriminatory access for the public.”

Last month, the FCC passed new rules that will allow the regional Bell operating companies to close their fiber and hybrid fiber networks to outside competitors. Previous FCC ruling have allowed the cable companies, which control approximately 70 percent of the U.S. broadband market, to close their networks to competitors.

“There is far too much at stake for this decision to be taken behind closed doors,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior director of policy and advocacy at Consumers Union. “It is essential that the Congress not allow such a monumental shift in public policy to take place without an open and vigorous debate.”

The two consumer groups want Congress to hold hearings on the FCC’s “recent and proposed” broadband rules.

“Because the Commission has, incorrectly in our view, allowed cable operators to withhold access to their underlying advanced telecommunications networks from competitors, we are rapidly moving toward a world in which two closed, proprietary advanced telecommunications networks will dominate the emerging digital information economy,” the groups state in their letter.

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.

“While the Commission and the industry, indeed all participants, tend to get caught up in the details of specific decisions, the wider implications of such a momentous decision must be considered carefully,” the consumer groups contend. “Public policy decisions with such massive implications should flow directly from Congress and not be conjured up through ‘legal jujitsu’, as the Wisconsin Public Service Commission has stated.”

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