ILECs Ask FCC to Deregulate Voice Service

Say Competition Has Rendered Old Regs Obsolete

The telephone companies say they are no longer your father's monopoly and have asked to get out from under decades of voice service regs.

USTelecom asked the FCC on Wednesday for a declaratory ruling that incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) are no longer the dominant providers by virtue of their switched-access services, pointing to new IP nets and service provided by competitors, like cable operators now bundling voice service into their offerings.

Such a determination would get them out from under tariffs but not obligations like 911, privacy and disability access they point out in the filing.

In a blog on the petition to the FCC, USTelecom president Walter McCormick said the petition was meant to be the beginning of a dialog about moving his industry closer to parity with its competition.

The FCC just created a task force to brainstorm on the migration to IP delivery and Fred Campbell, director of the Communications Liberty and Innovation Project, suggests that the USTelecom petition should be one of the steps along that path.

He points out that the petition does not include broadband or special access services, but simply the plain old telephone service, a service that is getting plainer and older in comparison to the digital IP world. "Given the rate at which telephone companies are losing customers when they cannot raise prices as a regulatory matter, it is preposterous to continue presuming that they could raise prices as an economic matter," he says. "Though the relief sought by USTA is a small step toward regulatory modernization, it is an essential one that the FCC can take immediately under existing precedent," he adds.

The Internet Innovation Alliance agrees it is time to rethink old regs in a new world.

"The vast majority of the nation now benefits from a highly competitive telecommunications marketplace," the group said in a statement. "Consumers have an abundance of wireless and wireline options for telephone communications and are taking their pick from an array of technologies. Policy makers should prioritize the modernization of regulations, eliminating rules that are inappropriate to apply in today's dynamic and robust marketplace. In places where there is clear competition in the offering of local voice telephone service, the 'dominant carrier' status now accorded to local phone companies should be repealed."