• United States
by Steve Taylor and Joanie Wexler

FCC Baby Bell ruling: Clear as mud

Mar 13, 20032 mins

* The good and bad news about the FCC's unbundling decisions

Back in the mid-1980s, Howard Anderson of Yankee Group prominence referred to the 1984-era breakup of the Bell System as the “Full Employment Act for Consultants.”  And if anybody is worried about out-of-work telecom attorneys, it’s for sure that the recent rulings by the FCC on unbundled network elements (UNE) will assure that there’s more time spent in court than in provisioning new services for the next few years.

From our understanding of the various analyses of the ruling, there are a few key points.  As a plus for the incumbent local-exchange carriers (ILEC), the FCC ruled that even though copper loops must continue to be made available to competitors, traditional TDM-based services – such as T-1 services – provisioned over these loops do not have to be unbundled.  The obvious implication here is that if the copper loops are available, the traditional services can be provided by the competitive LEC (CLEC).

On the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on broadband packet services.  This should be extremely good news for most of the services that enterprise users are migrating toward.  This boost for IP and ATM services in particular should, according to most analyses, bring about faster deployment and more availability of these services.

But the most disturbing element of the ruling was a strong emphasis on the role of the state public utility commissions (PUC).  For the most part, rather than making firm decisions on whether parts of the market were ready for deregulation, the FCC punted the ball back to the PUCs to make these determinations.  Many key decisions will be made on a state-by-state basis and the FCC will lean on the PUCs to make determinations that are on a market-by-market basis within the states.

We’ll avoid commenting on this from a states’ rights and public-policy perspective.  That’s not our specialty.  But from a telecom perspective, this lack of a clear national policy makes network planning a nightmare.  Most telecom networks span multiple locations within several states.  Deployment of consistent solutions to all branches is an imperative.  And it’s going to be impossible when each location is playing by a different set of rules.