Tuesday, March 15
A new paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs, Visiting Senior Policy Scholar at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, takes a deep dive into the current state of “special access” services, particularly whether there is a case for re-regulation. You can download a copy of the full report here, but here’s some findings from the executive summary to chew over:
Both the traditional U.S. CLECs and the cable companies who have entered the business broadband market are in good financial health and are generating higher free cash flow than the wireline segments of the largest ILECs. The CLECs and cable operators also have higher stock valuations, indicating that investors expect them to grow revenues and cash flow more rapidly.
Traditional CLECs have focused on the business market exclusively and built out only in areas where high-density makes construction-cost relatively low and attainable-revenue relatively high. In other words, they build only where they can expect penetration levels high enough to ensure high free cashflow. The CLECs’ metro fiber networks have brought them into or close to most buildings that house potential business broadband customers.
The data provided publicly by U.S. CLECs and cable operators confirms the few facts that have so far emerged from the FCC’s special access data collection, i.e. that there is extensive facilities-based competition in the business broadband market.
The enterprise market’s migration from legacy TDM facilities to Ethernet over fiber or coax facilities provides the CLECs and cable operators with the opportunity to compete on equal terms with the ILECs in the fast-growing portion of the market, while decimating the legacy revenues of the ILECs.
For more on special access and regulations, check out our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman’s recent piece in The Hill as well as three white papers on the subject released by US Telecom.
Friday, March 11
On Wednesday, IIA Founding Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman moderated a panel at the TIA Spring Policy Summit, titled “Special Access Re-Regulation.” The robust discussion explored the FCC’s regulation of the business data services market. Below are a handful of highlights:
Berge Ayvazian, Wireless 20/20: We have seen significant competition in the special access field between companies. This competition has shaped the underlying infrastructure on which wireless exists. We must take advantage of this opportunity to apply what we have learned in the last 10 years to allow the market to evolve around the competition already happening in the marketplace. In most markets, the quality of service being delivered by an ILEC and a CLEC is the same. We need to change the way we impose regulations on the business broadband market.
Patrick Brogan, USTelecom: Competition policy has been evolving since 1996 in the business broadband marketplace. The special access market has been competitive in telecom for a very long time. The guiding policy over the past fifteen years has been to encourage facilities-based competition and this should continue to be our goal.
Fred Campbell, Tech Knowledge: I find it difficult to believe that price regulation is needed when we have seen healthy competition. During the net neutrality proceeding, Chairman Wheeler was certain that there would be no price regulation. Business services is where competition started. Consumers do not need price regulation. Something is not right about this proceeding.
Hal Singer, PPI: If you push prices down from competitive levels you will see inefficiencies at all levels. If you are going to seize someone’s property, though, you are smart to wait until they have upgraded their network. You do not want to join the old copper network; you want them to already be upgraded to fiber. Prices are not at monopoly levels. By 2014, 42% of commercial buildings were outfitted with fiber. In 2009, it was just 23%. If you step in now and impose price regulations you could do some bad things. The notion that people are competing on a non-level playing field does not make sense.
Ayvazian: We all agree there is no basis on which to introduce price regulations.
Campbell: In my view, price regulation is the last option and worst possible way to address market issues.
Singer: Before Gigi Sohn was at the FCC, she was at Public Knowledge. One of Public Knowledge’s ultimate objectives is increased regulation and unbundling. There are a lot of forces at play here that are pushing them towards the CLEC agenda.
Brogan: There is a group in the CLEC industry that benefits from price regulation and increased access to network facilities. It is easier to lease these from the incumbents than it is to build their own facilities.
Campbell: Their complaint is that, to get a certain discount, you need to commit to a 7-year term. I do not see how that is inherently problematic when facilities must be built. These contracts are long-term for a reason.
Brogan: I would continue to not regulate carrier Ethernet and rationalize regulation. Do not lower prices. This will discourage investment. That is the source of innovation within the broadband industry. Facilities-based competition is more self-sustaining.
Campbell: We need to stop moving to the left of Europe on communications policy. Many of the same consumer groups supporting price unbundling loved to point to Europe as an example of how broadband policy in the United States policy should move. In 2013, the EU’s version of the FCC drafted a lengthy report with data on developments in the EU markets and concluded that investment in the EU is lower due to unbundling. The reason is that unbundling discourages investment. If an entity has regulated access at government regulated rates, they have profit without the risk of losing investment dollars. Their conclusion was that, beyond where cable was, there was no increased investment. Now Chairman Wheeler wants to do it anyways.
Singer: If you want to maximize broadband deployment, we should be free of regulations.
Campbell: Chairman Wheler uses the word “competition” a lot, but when he uses it, he means something completely different than I do when I say competition.
Singer: When you say competition three times, it is static and not dynamic. Chairman Wheeler’s competition does not mean anything.
Campbell: Our FCC just makes up competition in market segments as if it is a new thing. Europe has imposed standards on how to impose these regulations. This has given them enormous power to do unhealthy things for a viable and competitive communications market.
Singer: We are not going to get to a Communications Act rewrite until we solve the net neutrality problem. The idea is to figure out a way to give the FCC authority to regulate allegations of discrimination on a case-by-case basis. Republicans should go forward on a broadband subsidy so we do not have to raise taxes on the back of broadband users.
Campbell: If we want to talk about politicized decision-making, let’s look at net neutrality. One of the arguments raised in favor of Title II regulations were the number of comments received in favor of it. It did not matter who these were from, but simply the volume of responses. The question we all asked was the relevance of each of these comments. There are arguments about the FCC’s political form of decision-making.
Thursday, March 10
Yesterday, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman had an op-ed published in The Street on Sprint wanting it both ways when it comes to special access services. An excerpt:
Every year American employers spend far more money than they should on a blizzard of government filings. Some are mandatory like tax returns and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. Some are critical for public safety or record-keeping like prescription drug studies or the Census. Some are purely voluntary—like engaging in federal regulatory agency proceedings.
However, problems arise when these filings fail to add up. For instance, what if a company tells the SEC one thing to try to win favor on Wall Street but then tells another government agency something different to get special regulatory treatment? Which one should the government believe? For that matter, what should investors believe?
Sprint provides an excellent example of this type of behavior, offering investors a bullish spin for growth based on innovation while pleading with policy makers to pity its relative weakness through ongoing regulatory intervention. In the age of heightened transparency, however, policy makers should see through the smoke and recognize the competitive market that truly is. And, unfortunately for Sprint and its investors, the story it’s telling regulators is much closer to the truth.
You can check out the full op-ed over at The Street.
Wednesday, March 02
Over at Forbes, Fred Campbell has a smart piece on the issue of Special Access and how the FCC should encourage competition rather than rely on old regulations. An excerpt:
The only businessmen who claim that cable and CLECs can’t compete with telcos in the market for business communications service are those who are already profiting from the FCC’s existing special access regulations and who want the agency to apply these outdated rules to new IP-based technologies. As NCTA put it, these CLEC companies’ “entire argument boils down to the simple proposition that they would prefer to pay less than they do today.”
A fair and unbiased agency would reject this self-serving argument as an invalid justification for imposing new rate regulations — regulations that would also have the effect of discouraging competition and investment in new IP-based facilities.
But don’t be surprised if the FCC decides to regulate business rates anyway.
Check out Campbell’s full op-ed over at Forbes.
Tuesday, March 01
Yesterday, The Root published an op-ed from our Co-Chairmen Larry Irving and Jamal Simmons on the need for sensible reform of the Lifeline program. An excerpt:
These days, new social media platforms emerge regularly. Individuals have become broadcast channels with audiences rivaling some small radio stations. The barrier to new technologies reaching even wider audiences is lack of high-speed Internet access, and for many people who need it most, the barrier to access is cost. This Black History Month, reforming the federal Lifeline program to include broadband should be elevated as a key step to increasing access for Americans with the lowest incomes.
Check out Irving and Simmons’ full op-ed over at The Root.
Tuesday, February 23
Earlier today, the Phoenix Center released a new paper titled “The Road to Nowhere: Regulatory Implications of the FCC’s Special Access Data Request.” Penned by Chief Economist George S. Ford, the paper predicts that the FCC’s data collection efforts will not serve those who want more regulations on Special Access services. In fact, Ford argues that the “FCC’s Special Access data will likely show that regulation is unnecessary in many geographic areas and already adequate, if not too strict, in others.”
Ford also reports that comments so far received at the Commission aren’t helping the process either. As he writes:
The first round of comments based on the data have been submitted to the Commission, but the comments and reports aren’t terribly helpful to the general public; the Commission, perhaps concerned the data would not support its pro-regulatory agenda, has not only restricted access to the data but those with access are required to redact from their comments and reports even the most summary of statistics indicating the extent of competition and other facts.
The Phoenix Center’s concerns about the FCC’s Special Access data gathering are shared by our own Bruce Mehlman, who penned an op-ed for The Street back in December that argued:
The commission’s new investigation into special access rates gives short shrift to these aggressive competitors and relies on an old vision of the marketplace to protect the business models of a few companies, even as it is supposed to be promoting deployment of ever-faster broadband. Those hardworking crews you see from the road, and that rumbling sound you can feel, represent investment taking place. Competition works and is working in the real world—but it apparently remains unseen and unfelt at the FCC.
You can download the Phoenix Center’s “The Road to Nowhere: Regulatory Implications of the FCC’s Special Access Data Request” at their website.
Wednesday, February 17
As the nation turns its eyes to political primary seasons, one of the things voters most dislike is politicians saying one thing to one group and then saying something else to others.
All politicians inevitably pander, and the smart voter needs to review the full body of a candidate’s comments to appreciate where they really stand.
The same challenge often exists with companies. For businesses also try to tell one audience, such as government regulators, one thing and Wall Street another.
Take Sprint. Sprint tells Wall Street it is incredibly well-positioned to thrive in a competitive marketplace, while begging the government to maintain regulations protecting and advantaging it against other competitors.
Start with what Sprint is telling the government: last September, Sprint told the FCC that it needs regulated access (“special access”) to business data lines: “Every one of these sites will require additional backhaul and Sprint and other competitors will depend on both TDM and Ethernet special access more than ever to be able to compete.” Sprint said essentially the same thing in 2013 in the same docket (yes, the “05” in the FCC’s proceeding refers to “2005” – this one has been going on for an absurd length of time).
But to Wall Street, Sprint sings a very different tune: it claims to save money by not relying on FCC-mandated business data circuits and writes, in its filings to the SEC, that it is purchasing alternative, more modern Ethernet circuits in the competitive marketplace. Sprint said that every year from 2011 to 2015, repeating the message that “We are also modifying our existing backhaul architecture to enable increased capacity to our network at a lower cost by utilizing Ethernet as opposed to our existing time division multiplexing (TDM) technology.”
Sprint said that it’s using Ethernet to save money; it’s apparently applying the technology for use as wireless backhaul to reduce its network costs – an effort that BITG analyst Walter Piecyk estimated “could save between $600 million to $1.2 billion a year of network expense.”
Sprint has been offering Ethernet to businesses since 2007. It’s spending money to modernize its own network, selling newer lines to customers, and talking up its technology to both Wall Street and customers. Those are all great things to do in a competitive market (and, in fact, hard evidence of a competitive market), but Sprint still wants the government to keep its hand on the scale.
So Sprint wants to sell service on those newer lines to business data customers, use others for wireless backhaul to save money, and still force its competitors to pay for regulated “special access” lines that rely on outdated technology.
There’s no reason the FCC should fall for such double speak. Sprint does not need special access regulation; it’s merely using this as a tool to increase its competitors’ costs while reducing its own.
Wall Street accepts (and has for several years) that Sprint has made the investments (a 53% increase in 2012, for instance) to make it a competitor in a competitive Ethernet market. It doesn’t need “special access” regulations or special protection from the refs (in this case, the FCC).
Like sophisticated voters, government regulators should consider all of the candidates’ statements, not merely those pandering to a single audience.
For more, check out our report “Sprint’s Tale of Two Stories on FCC Special Access Regulation.”
Friday, February 12
Special Access is receiving a lot of attention these days, mainly due to the FCC’s controversial stance on the topic. And now US Telecom has released three white papers on Special Access and the competitiveness of business broadband. Describing the papers, US Telecom’s Walter McCormick said, “These papers document the huge successes in this marketplace, which are exactly the competitive outcome Congress envisioned, and that the FCC has said it wants to see. We hope the FCC will innovate with us by modernizing policy and regulation so industry can leverage the competition we have today to a greater future for tomorrow.”
Links to the papers below. Happy reading!
Paper 1: “The Broadband Internet Economy is Thriving”
Paper 2: “The Competitive Business Broadband Marketplace”
Paper 3: “The FCC Should Not Pick Winners and Losers”
Thursday, February 11
Monday, February 08
Late last week, the San Jose Mercury News published an op-ed from our own Rick Boucher and Larry Irving marking the 20th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the piece, Boucher and Irving discuss how the relatively “light-touch” regulation helped spur broadband growth in America, and how the FCC would be wise to stay the course. An excerpt:
The act’s framers promoted light-touch regulation and a structure that led to an expanding Internet driven by new technologies, devices and applications. These forward-looking Clinton-era policies placed competition and investment as the central catalysts to drive innovation and advance consumer benefits.
Two stark paths now lie before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): It can advance pro-investment, facilities-based broadband competition or it can discourage investment and broadband build-out.
Check out the full op-ed over at the San Jose Mercury News.