U.S. corporations heavily rely on dedicated private lines to run their businesses in the same way American consumers have come to depend on high-speed broadband at home.
Sixteen years after major reform in federal telecommunications law, some of these mammoth companies still gripe they have few options when selecting a carrier for their high-speed circuits to connect their offices and other locations.
A fundamental question U.S. regulators in Washington, D.C. face is whether to reverse a course of deregulation in the "special access" market.
The issues have been lingering at the Federal Communications Commission for years and some powerful people on the left are getting antsy.
"We understand that the Commission is planning another round of data requests in the special access rulemaking. We urge you to analyze this data expeditiously and act decisively to reduce rates and reform anticompetitive contracts," five Democrats in the U.S. House wrote this week in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Don't count on a quick resolution. As Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and other lawmakers who signed the letter pointed out, the FCC has been considering special access for more than seven years.
It started in January 2005 when the FCC opened a rulemaking proceeding that asked whether the agency should maintain or modify its "pricing flexibility rules for special access services." Years earlier, the agency had established criteria that allowed incumbent carriers like Verizon Communications to provide special access services using more flexible tariffs that gave them leeway to raise their prices. The incumbents had to demonstrate competitors made investments in certain facilities in order to gain such rights.
The pricing flexibility rules weren't popular with everyone, and AT&T Corp. a decade ago -- then a long-distance carrier following the 1984 divestiture of Old Ma Bell -- asked the FCC to revoke them over a multitude of concerns. AT&T claimed the rules failed to predict competition and that the Baby Bell phone companies existing at the time (such as SBC Communications and Verizon) were reaping monstrous revenues and returns on special access services. AT&T also complained the BOCs (Bell Operating Companies) had either kept rates the same or raised them in all the metropolitan areas where they were granted pricing flexibility.
AT&T was so peeved it took its case to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. to force the FCC to rule on its request.