FCC Chief Pushing For DSL Deregulation

For four months, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin
Martin has been largely silent on what direction he wants to take the powerful
independent agency. No more.

With rumors swirling that the White House is close to filling vacancies at the
FCC that will return the majority to the Republicans (currently there are two
Republicans and two Democrats on the five person panel), Martin spoke out late
last week on a wide range of issues before the agency.

Keynoting a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility
Commissioners (NARUC) in Austin, Tex., Martin said he is already circulating a
proposal among the commissioners to largely deregulate the DSL service offered
by the Bells.

“Right now, cable modem providers operate free of most regulation. As you
know, this not the case for most telcos who must provide their services
subject to legacy regulations,” Martin said. “This disparity continues to
distort the marketplace.”

Three years ago, the FCC ruled that cable modem broadband is an information
service and not subject to the many rules and regulations imposed on incumbent
telephone companies such as Verizon and BellSouth , which are classified as telecommunications services.

The decision effectively let cable modem operators close their systems to
competing broadband providers. Since then, as independent service providers
challenged the ruling in court, the incumbent telephone companies have
agitated for the same treatment for their DSL service.

In June, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC
ruling and cleared the way for the FCC to give DSL the same status as cable
modem broadband.

“The Supreme Court’s Brand X decision last month provides us [FCC] the
opportunity to make this happen,” Martin said. “By affirming the commission’s
determination that cable modem services should be treated as a less regulated
service, this decision provides a clear regulatory map.”

That map, he said, points directly at deregulating the Bells’ broadband

“Perhaps the most important action we need to take in furtherance of broadband
deployment is to place wireline and cable providers of broadband Internet
access services on a level playing field,” Martin said.

Although Martin’s still undisclosed plan to deregulate DSL isn’t on Thursday’s
agenda for the August open meeting of the FCC, there is a chance it could be
added before Martin gavels the FCC into session.

“It is my strong hope that this order will be adopted as soon as possible so
that consumers can reap the benefits of continued infrastructure investment
and the increased deployment of broadband services,” Martin said.

He added, “There is one other guiding principle that I believe should govern
any attempt to accomplish these objectives: technological and competitive
neutrality. All providers of the same service should be treated in the same
manner regardless of the technology they employ.”

Deregulation, he noted, does not mean no regulation.

“It is critical to our nation’s security that broadband Internet access
providers and Voice over IP providers cannot escape the ability
of law enforcement to conduct legitimate surveillance,” Martin said.
“Similarly, states and [the FCC] must continue to work together to ensure that
public safety and consumer protection goals are met.”

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