The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted “tentatively” to reclassify wireline broadband services under existing regulatory structures. The move could have the effect of reducing regulations on major telecoms looking to roll out Digital Subscriber Line service nationally.
The FCC announced that it has “tentatively concluded the wireline broadband Internet access services – whether provided over a third partys facilities or self-provisioned facilities – are information services, with a telecommunications component, rather than telecommunications services.” The Commission will seek additional public comment on the issue.
The reclassification to “information services” puts DSL in the same category as voice mail and e-mail, which ride over established telecommunications facilities. The move could benefit traditional telephone giants like Verizon and BellSouth, who, while dealing with what they say are onerous open-access requirements, have watched broadband deployment by differently regulated cable companies move ahead.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, FCC chairman Michael Powell said that the adoption of a new classification would provide greater regulatory clarity and certainty, reduce regulation and hence costs for broadband rollout. “With todays decision, among several others, we have stopped just talking about promoting broadband and started acting,” he said.
Powell cited confusions arising from the FCCs failure to deal with both existing statutory language, and new directions to be taken “required or suggested” by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as prime reasons for the slow growth of wireline broadband. “We must now clarify the regulatory classification and treatment of these new services, so companies–incumbents and competitors alike–know what to expect and can make prudent decisions to build and enter these new markets,” he said.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from Thursdays decision, describing it as an “enormously far-reaching decision, and I, for one, am nowhere near ready to go there, even tentatively.”
Copps said he was not prepared to tell Congress, which authored the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that it intended to remove broadband services, “from the numerous competition, universal service, and consumer protection provisions that Congress imposed on common carriers providing telecommunications services.”
“Setting competition policy is the jurisdiction of Congress,” Copps said. “I fear that the Commissions tentative conclusions today may be read by some as leading down a different road.”