Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Bruce Mehlman'

Friday, October 07

A False Compromise


Our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman has a piece in Investor’s Business Daily on Verizon, the FCC, and the current business data services discussion. An excerpt:

Trade association INCOMPAS, which represents competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), and Verizon have been working together to “negotiate” a deal with the Federal Communications Commission. Although the terms may make perfect sense for them, they’re bad for the actual deployment and adoption of broadband infrastructure and, namely, the future of business data services (BDS).

Some are currently trying to sell this as a “compromise” plan — it’s not; a compromise typically requires there to be opposite sides at the table. Verizon is in the midst of transformation where it has sold off much of its wired telephone footprint across the nation in recent years and, as a result, now finds itself more and more a buyer of BDS in much of the country.

Good for Verizon if it thinks that this transformation benefits its company and shareholders, and quite logical for the company to lobby regulators on its new position. The FCC, however, retains the duty to investigate what’s really at stake in the purported “compromise” and to spot and call a shell game when they see one. Unsurprisingly, it all comes down to price and profit.

You can check out Mehlman’s full piece over at Investor’s Business Daily.

Tuesday, September 27

Election Night & Beyond


Over at The Street, our own Bruce Mehlman writes about the election and what it could mean for tech and investment. An excerpt:

[I]n this world of technological convergence, in which companies offering Internet, video, and traditional communications services are merging (some quite literally and others through expanding their business lines), investors should know that there are some critical decisions on the horizon regarding interference in these markets or light-touch regulation. Those decisions will impact whether companies invest robustly, whether distributors of content will have the right incentives to continue innovation in that space, and many other issues. Watch the returns on Election Night – but also watch those critical appointments in regulatory agencies over the coming year to get a fuller flavor of the impact of government regulation on markets.

Check out Mehlman’s full piece at The Street.

Tuesday, August 09

Watch the IIA Event at the Republican National Convention


The light-touch regulatory framework of the 1996 Telecom Act set the stage for extensive internet network investment and innovation. To examine how this investment and innovation have empowered Americans to shape presidential races, we hosted “From Netscape to Snapchat: Politics in the Age of Broadband” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention (RNC). You can watch a video of the event below.

Thursday, August 04

Verizon’s Exit

By Brad

Over at The Street, our own Bruce Mehlman has an op-ed on Verizon’s recent about face when it comes to investment and facilities-based competition, particularly in the business data services market. An excerpt:

Since 2003 — a virtual eternity in the fast-paced world of telecom — Verizon has staunchly advocated for investment, deployment of fiber, and facilities-based competition. Verizon’s once-visionary leadership coined the phrase ‘new wires, new rules/old wires, old rules’ used by the FCC to create pro-fiber investment policies that helped spur the deployment of its modern high-speed broadband network. The “Fi” in FiOS, a central part of Verizon’s corporate strategy and broadband buildouts — stands for fiber, after all.

Yet Verizon now trumpets a deal with the competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) trade association INCOMPAS that favors price regulation in the BDS market. Why the sudden change? Some might suggest that Verizon’s proposed mergers currently pending before the FCC and other government agencies might be the reason why the company is now simply driving 55 past the speed trap giving a friendly wave to the regulatory cops.

But there’s another likely reason: In a highly regulated environment, it can be tempting to let regulators determine outcomes in markets rather than doing the hard work of competition.

You can read Mehlman’s full piece at The Street.

Tuesday, August 02

Ignoring the Cable Giant in the Room

By Bruce Mehlman


The smart folks at Light Reading have kicked off a four-part series analyzing the Cable industry’s performance and opportunities in serving the business market. If you’re the type who enjoys wonking out on telecommunications complexities, you’ll want to check the series out.

The first part of the series, “How Cable Means Business About Business,” examines cable company entry into the business data services market. The data it presents makes clear how companies such as Comcast and Time Warner (now part of Charter Communications) have made significant inroads in the commercial communications service market. As this chart from the article shows, Comcast’s business market strategy appears focused on medium-sized business customers.

And Time Warner Cable (now owned by Charter Communications) has seen year over year revenue growth in the commercial service market:

So what’s the big deal about these charts? Why is cable’s growth in commercial services relevant?  It’s important because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  is poised to impose new price regulations on existing antiquated copper-based networks as well as new fiber facilities and services that serve business customers. The FCC justifies this regulatory overreach on the perceived lack of competition in the marketplace.   

In doing so, however, the Commission appears to be turning a blind eye to the true competitive nature of the commercial services market. As we’ve noted before, in crafting new price regulation, the FCC is relying on dated, incomplete and deeply flawed data. The FCC’s market data is not only nearly three years old, it also fails to capture the robust entry and success of cable in this market. 

Imposing heavy handed price regulation on this rapidly changing market could create long-term incentives that ultimately lower capital investment, lessen facilities-based competition, and harm consumer for businesses in urban and rural markets across the nation.   

Broadband network investment vital to 21st century economic growth and job development should not be put at risk, it’s not too late for the FCC to pause and consider these new data points before rushing to judgment.

Tuesday, July 19

Coverage of our RNC Event


Yesterday, IIA held the event From Netscape to Snapchat: Politics in the Age of Broadband at the Republican National Convention. It was a great discussion, and featured new research from our friends at Pew on social media and this year’s election.

You can learn more about the discussion here. And here’s some of the coverage the discussion received in the press.

Sara Fagen, a technology strategist and former advisor to George W. Bush, said Clinton’s technology advantage will matter if the election is close. She cited Trump’s naming of Mike Pence as his running mate via Twitter as an example of a blown opportunity. Both Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 used their announcements to enlarge their lists of supporters.

Fagen predicted that the next major step in using technology to target voters would use data to find where and when to target them, using their location and beliefs to determine the type and content of ads. For example, certain women might hear education-related ads on the radio when they drop their kids off at school, then get another message at their work computers, followed by a mobile ad when they are most likely to be looking at their phones.

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times

Bruce Mehlman, founding co-chairman of the IIA, said the increasing popularity of online news sources affirms the validity of federal communications sector policy that has allowed the industry to thrive.  “We really need to maintain these light-touch, pro-investment policies,” he said.

— John Curran, TR Daily

During an event in Cleveland Monday discussing the various candidates’ digital campaigns — less than two miles from the 2016 Republican National Convention — Deep Root Analytics’ Sara Fagen said Trump, who famously discounted analytics at the start of his campaign, has missed major opportunities that could make the 10 or 20,000-vote difference in key battleground states.

Giuseppe Macri, Inside Sources

Friday, July 15

IIA at the RNC


Tune in Monday, July 18 starting at 12 pm EST for IIA’s From Netscape to Snapchat: Politics in the Age of Broadband, live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. As part of the discussion, Pew Research Center will present its latest data on campaign communications.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream


During the 1996 re-election campaign, presidential candidates primarily reached voters through traditional media – one-way communication. Americans were limited in how they could make their voices heard: writing or faxing a letter, picking up the phone, or visiting with candidates in-person. That same year, the light-touch regulatory framework of the 1996 Telecom Act set the stage for extensive network investment and innovation that created many new channels for two-way and multi-way communication between presidential campaigns and voters, empowering Americans to shape the presidential race.
The discussion will explore these questions and more:

• How has the way that presidential campaigns reach American voters evolved since 1996?

• How are Americans interacting with presidential campaigns today using social media and the web?

• Can social media have a truly significant impact on the outcome of a presidential race?

• Has the political process been effectively democratized by broadband?
Featured speakers include:
Amy Mitchell (opening remarks)
Director of Journalism Research, Pew Research Center
Lee Dunn
Senior Counsel, Google
Sara Fagen
Co-Founder, Deep Root Analytics
Partner, FleishmanHillard’s specialty brand DDC
Patrick Ruffini
Co-Founder, Echelon Insights
Chairman and Founder, Engage
Bruce Mehlman (moderator)
Founding Co-Chairman, Internet Innovation Alliance

Friday, July 01

A Broken NPRM

By Bruce Mehlman


The Federal Communications Commission has been extremely active as of late, and this rush to regulate has not been without its headaches. Case in point: The Commission’s proceeding in relation to Special Access services (Business Data Services (BDS).

Specifically, the recent release of peer reviewed responses to a third-party economist study commissioned by the FCC for the Special Access proceeding. Inexplicably, the FCC decided to release these peer reviewed responses on the very day that comments were due on the FCC’s Special Access Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, even though these responses were in the agency’s possession since late April.
This surprise last minute dump of critical information is bad enough, but what makes the headache a potential migraine for interested parties is the fact that the peer review responses make clear that the data the FCC relied upon to propose new regulations on business services is flawed. As Hal Singer notes on his website:

As revealed in the peer review, the flaws in the underlying economic work that undergirds the proposed regulation of BDS (previously called “special access” services) are potentially fatal, rendering the analysis useless as the basis for the agency’s proposed regulations.

The fact that the FCC’s data is so severely flawed — even useless — is critical information that should have been made known to commenting parties before they submitted their comments. The FCC’s decision to sit on this data until after comments were filed represents a breach of trust between regulators and the public. Moving forward to adopt new regulations in light of now useless data would compound that breach and signal a potential political motive to achieve a certain policy goal. Here’s Singer again:

In seeming disregard to these significant criticisms, the FCC presses forward with its radical proposal, which would subject both telcos (incumbents) and facilities-based entrants (cable companies) to price controls. None of the economic statements released by the staff this week credibly addresses the critical errors reviewed here. Peer review is great in theory, but if doesn’t cause the Commission to alter its approach, then what good is it?

The simple solution for this mess is for the FCC to immediately extend the reply comment deadline for their BDS NPRM. This would give all interested parties and Congress an opportunity to review and provide input on the peer review study and the related economic statements. After all, billions in broadband investment dollars are potentially at stake. Let’s hope the FCC is listening.

Wednesday, June 22

Lessons From Canada


Originally published at Forbes.

A Lesson From Canada For The FCC

by Bruce Mehlman

Oh, FCC: Take some notes from Canada.

Maxime Bernier, one of the candidates for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has just given a speech in which he set out ways to achieve real competition in the telecom sector. And one of the things he proposes is actually to phase out the role of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) as telecom regulator.

Bernier is a telecom and regulatory expert. He was Minister for Industry in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and led the deregulation of local telephone markets after cable companies and wireless had transformed the telecom landscape. In short, Bernier recognized that there was “obviously more and more competition,” and he acted on it. In the face of opposition both from those who favored continued regulation and the Canadian regulator itself, the market was deregulated and competition flourished.

So why is Bernier so anxious to act now? It all goes back to his time in government. Ten years ago, he had set out a Policy Direction to the CRTC, which instructed, in his words, “the CRTC to rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible within the scope of the Telecommunications Act” as a “solution” to its “control freak mindset.”

Back to old ways

What happened? “I, and many others at the time thought that it would force the CRTC to change its ways, to become more flexible and adapt to the new competitive reality. We were wrong. The CRTC seemed to take the Policy Direction seriously for a few years. And then it reverted back to its old ways.”

And from this, Bernier draws a conclusion about regulation and regulators: “Those whose task it is to regulate this industry tend to be behind the curve. They don’t want to let go of their regulatory control. Meanwhile, the industry has actually moved on, with new innovations.” That’s exactly right. And it applies just as much here as there.

Now if the CRTC can behave this way in a parliamentary system, in which it is supposed to follow the directions of Parliament, imagine the vast discretion our own Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has in a system where it is an independent regulatory body.

Implementing policies that ignore the marketplace

Why should Americans care? Because the issues that Bernier cites as examples of a regulatory mindset are the same ones we face here, notably with broadband, wireless and the nature of competition itself. In each case, the regulator opted for policies that ignored the marketplace, put its hand on the scale and favored policies that restrict investment. In auctions, restrictions on bidding intended to dictate market outcomes led to misallocation and under-utilization (as some of the spectrum sold in 2007 for public safety is still not being used and other parts took seven years to finally see service after sale in secondary markets).

So whether it’s broadband, wireless auctions or the nature of competition itself, the issues are similar on both sides of the 49th parallel. Regulators too often seek to ignore marketplace realities. In the U.S., we are witnessing it today with the FCC’s heavy-handed proposed regulations in areas such as special access, privacy and the video marketplace, among others.

Regulators only want to protect their own power

What Bernier writes of the CRTC could equally be said of the FCC: “As the industry evolves, the CRTC finds new reasons to continue to regulate it, in order to justify its existence. In doing so, it is not protecting consumers, it is only protecting its own power. The telecom industry is a mature and competitive industry, and it should be treated as such. It’s not a playground for bureaucrats.”

Both Americans and Canadians are better off with greater access to modern, fast telecommunications services, when the regulator lets the market work, encourages real competition, and investment, and keeps its hand off the scale. In fact, again quoting Bernier: “Interventionist policies that are meant to bring more competition actually do the opposite. Competitive markets don’t need government intervention to work. They only need to be free.”

Friday, April 08

The Data on Special Access

By Bruce Mehlman


This week the FCC allowed parties to release some aggregate data in the broadband market collected as part of the ongoing special access proceeding.  And this data, even though partial, confirms what I and others have been saying all along: virtually all businesses have access to real, facilities-based competition today. And to the degree that some individual businesses don’t have that access today, it’s because the current beneficiaries of special access regulation have an incentive not to invest to connect their business customers to the closest competitive fiber networks that are readily available in the market.

In all, 95% of Census blocks where demand for special access exists have competitive facilities available.  And those Census blocks include 99% of all businesses in the country.

With grades like these, let’s give an A+ to the competitive providers that are bringing modern fiber to American businesses.  This definitely includes cable companies that are rapidly expanding their services to businesses of all sizes.

On the other hand, it’s clear from the data that the CLECs have customers in many office buildings that must continue to rely on antiquated copper facilities and their slow data speeds because their CLEC provider refuses to build out fiber connections to nearby fiber networks.  Apparently, it’s easier to call for FCC action than it is to build out networks even 1000 feet to compete with the competitive carriers.

As US Telecom notes, the calls for more FCC intervention are “a matter of convenience, not competition.”  But a business strategy of rent-seeking-rather-than-investing is not evidence of market failure.  It’s evidence instead of regulatory failure.  Because so long as the FCC’s special access policies serve to protect the business models of CLECs, who decline to invest, then why invest?  Why spend shareholders’ or investors’ money when the government forces others to subsidize you?  Nice work if you can get it, but it does nothing to promote innovation or, for that matter, competition.  Government-enabled competition isn’t really competition.

But now that at long last we have some data publicly available, the right policy is even more clear:  There’s simply no reason for the FCC to intervene in this market even more than it already has.  The decision by some companies not to invest in the future should not be a basis for increased regulation.

Tuesday, March 15

Anna-Maria Kovacs on Special Access

By Brad

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

A Conversation About Special Access


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

Mehlman on Sprint’s Conflicting Stories

By Brad

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.

Tuesday, February 23

The Data Dead End

By Brad

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

The Special Access Dance

By Bruce Mehlman


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.”

Tuesday, January 26

No Free Rides

By Bruce Mehlman


In 1973, the Edgar Winter Group scored a Top 20 hit with “Free Ride.” In 2016, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) are trying to score a free ride from the FCC via heavy regulation of special access rates.

While the CLECs like to claim there is a monopoly in the business broadband market, investment numbers say otherwise. Hundreds of billions are being invested in broadband networks, and all that money is not coming from CLECs. No wonder they want the FCC to impose heavy regulations on special access. The CLEC business model is to rely on the regulatory hammer to give them access to networks others have built, and as networks across the nation are upgraded to run on all-IP — and businesses require ever-faster broadband — the CLECs are quickly finding their business model is on thin ice — with spring around the corner.

Still, they continue to bend the FCC’s ear, which is why I continue to write about special access. It’s also why the organization US Telecom has launched a new initiative called “Innovate With Us” to remind policymakers that the broadband market in America is thriving across the board, and in order to keep the good times — and investment dollars — rolling, sensible regulations need to be in place. Or, as US Telecom succinctly put it in the intro to the initiative:

[T]he FCC should champion pro-investment policies that work for business customers, not specific companies, and look beyond yesterday’s technologies toward the networks of the future.

Check out what else the smart folks at US Telecom have to say about special access at the Innovate With Us website. You can also download and share a handy infographic they’ve put together on competition in the special access market and how regulators can continue encouraging private investment in networks.

Thursday, January 14

Asymmetric Regulations

By Bruce Mehlman


“Competition” is one of those words that make policymakers tingle. And yet, time and time again, private industry finds itself wrestling with regulations that not only harm competition but — in the most extreme cases — actively benefit one party over another.

Case in point: wireline broadband competition. Providers have invested billions to expand the reach and speed of their networks, and yet recent actions taken by the FCC are threatening to stifle ongoing investment. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out this latest study from the American Consumer Institute titled “Concentration by Regulation: How the FCC’s Imposition of Asymmetric Regulations Are Hindering Wireline Broadband Competition in America.”

Yes, that title is quite the mouthful (as most study titles are), and to be honest, unless you’re someone who enjoys diving into studies (with charts) on regulations, investment, and the economy, you might find the report’s 18 pages a bit of a slog. But those of us who do read through ACI’s study will find a convincing — and rather damning — case that the FCC is mistepping rather badly as it continues to amass more and more power over broadband. For example, here’s what the report has to say about one of the biggest regulatory marks the Commission made in 2015:

Title II regulations are preserving and maintaining duplicative and costly copper networks. That cost is an impediment to fiber deployment that keeps ILECs more reliant on older copper-based DSL technologies. Instead of the FCC relieving non-dominant ILECs of Title II regulations in more competitive markets, the FCC has recently chosen to make broadband service providers subject to Title II regulations.

Unless there is action soon, the shift in concentration is likely to be permanent. A decade ago, the rollback of asymmetric regulations permitted modest rebound in broadband services for ILECs, because there was brisk growth in subscribers. Today, because the broadband market is so widespread, growing slower and more mature, asymmetric broadband regulation will likely have longer term consequences that could permanently displace and weaken wireline competition. Even if a rebound is possible, ILECs will face a major cost to win back customers. Regulations are costly and delays in lifting these regulations will be even more costly.

Translation: Old regulations that effect some providers and not others are forcing companies like Verizon and AT&T to invest billions in the copper networks of old. Meanwhile, other providers don’t face such regulatory roadblocks, even as they aim to invest in the very same thing legacy providers are investing in — fiber-backed, high-speed broadband networks. Not exactly the spirit of competition, is it?

The ACI study isn’t all doom and gloom for America’s communications infrastructure, though, for the group has thoughtfully included a three bullet points that can help level the playing field:

• Policymakers need to end Title II regulations for all providers.
• There needs to be less emphasis on regulation of wholesale services. Less regulation will encourage more facility-based investments, which will lead to the natural development of a healthy, wholesale market; and
• If regulators truly believe that some regulation of wholesale services is necessary – and that may be the case in some rural markets – then regulators need to apply these regulations on a symmetrical and competitively neutral basis.

In short, get rid of the bad regulations, be careful when imposing new ones, and make sure everyone is playing under the same rules. Wise words, but the question is: Will the FCC listen?

Thursday, December 03

Mehlman on Special Access in The Street

By Brad

In an op-ed originally published by The Street, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman warns that the FCC’s is taking the wrong approach when it comes to encouraging broadband competition. An excerpt:

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulators, purportedly eager to promote competition, keep stifling the investment needed to advance it meaningfully. Case in point, the Commission recently opened a tariff investigation on “special access” rates in the business data services market. For many observers, this political inquiry is unwarranted by the facts on the ground, driven instead by companies whose business models are dependent on government protection for “rent-seeking,” or ongoing access to the networks that others built.

You can read Mehlman’s full op-ed over at The Street.

Monday, November 23

Let’s Get Nerdy — Extra


In this bonus edition of Let’s Get Nerdy, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman breaks down how the business special access marketplace has changed since the 1990s, and discusses whether FCC special access rules are still necessary.

Thursday, November 05

Let’s Get Nerdy — Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6


In today’s installments, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman continues to focus on Special Access and regulations. Here he talks about what the U.S. can learn from a decade of empirical data collected by the European Union on wholesale access regulation.

Rounding out the discussion, Mehlman talks about the likely impacts of the FCC requiring that IP services replacing copper be offered to CLECs at wholesale rates.

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