Bells Freed From ‘Naked’ DSL

Federal telecommunications laws do not require BellSouth and other regional
carriers to offer standalone DSL service, according to a decision released
Friday by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The ruling, the last major decision of the Michael Powell era at the FCC,
upholds BellSouth’s decision to bundle DSL broadband with its voice service.
The decision pre-empts rulings by Georgia, Florida and several other states
requiring BellSouth to offer standalone, or “naked” DSL, to end users who
choose to use rival voice services.

“We find that each of the state commission decisions at issue here — either
expressly or implicitly — conditions the terms on which BellSouth must
offer competitive LECs [local exchange carriers] unbundled access to its
local loops in a manner inconsistent with the 1996 [Telecommunications] Act
and our implementing regulations,” the FCC decision states. “State
requirements that impose on BellSouth a requirement to unbundled do exactly
what the commission expressly determined was not required by the act.”

The traditional regional telecommunications companies are increasingly
losing landline customers to rival local companies, wireless services and
Internet telephony. In an effort to staunch the losses, the Bells want to
force users of its DSL to also use its landline voice services.

Not surprisingly, BellSouth applauded the FCC decision.

“This FCC order continues progress on clearing out regulatory underbrush
that handicaps rolling out broadband,” Jonathan Banks, vice president for federal executive and regulatory affairs at BellSouth, said in a statement. “By
affirming a single national policy in this area, this FCC action will
increase the speed and efficiency of bringing to consumers new and
innovative broadband service offerings over wireline networks.”

Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein voted against the measure,
saying the FCC was responding to state efforts to force the Bells to
unbundled its DSL service with the “heavy hammer of pre-emption.”

In a joint statement issued by Copps and Adelstein, the two commissioners
said, “In this decision, the commission unwisely flashes the green light for
broadband tying arrangements. Because we believe this is an area where the
commission should proceed with caution, we cannot support the outcome.”

Copps and Adelstein called the decision a “slap to federal-state relations”
and said the vote creates an “ominous” precedent for consumers.

“If it is permissible to deny consumers DSL if they do not also order analog
voice service, what stops a carrier from denying broadband service to an
end-user who has cut the cord and uses only a wireless phone?” they wrote.
“What prevents a carrier from refusing to provide DSL service to a savvy
consumer who wants standalone broadband only for VoIP?”

None of the three commissioners voting for BellSouth issued a statement.

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