Will common carrier-lite Internet rules kill local loop competition?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The days of plain old telephone service aren’t behind us yet, but the time will come — sooner rather than later — when all telecoms services, including voice, run over Internet protocol systems. The switch from copper to end-to-end fiber is a bit further down the road, but it’s near enough that practical questions about it have to be dealt with now.

Yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission offered its suggestions on how to do that to the FCC, unanimously approving comments for the feds to consider. Despite the fact that the primary author described the document as “very boring” (OK, and “extremely important”), it makes for interesting reading. A lot of it is about mundane details, like who pays for the backup batteries to keep landline phones running during blackouts (carriers should be responsible for proving enough juice for the first eight hours, says the CPUC), but there also fundamental market questions involved, such as what happens to a competitive carrier when an incumbent switches over to glass.

“What do we do about retiring the copper?” said Helen Mickiewicz, the CPUC staff attorney who drafted the comments. “Sonic uses copper wire to provide broadband service. If the copper wire is retired, what happens to Sonic’s business plan? It’s an interesting question, it’s one the FCC has to address”.

With AT&T pushing to get customers off of regulated POTS and onto unregulated (for the moment) VDSL-based service, it’s an urgent question. One that sits at the intersection of legacy common carrier wireline rules and the new title II-lite regime the FCC is considering for Internet regulation. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until 26th February to get even a tentative answer.