February 13, 2001, 1:19 PM — Alternative local carriers intent on selling plain-vanilla voice service and looking for a partner to offer DSL to sell to the same end users can take heart from a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC ruling, issued on the last day of former chairman William Kennard's tenure, removes a loophole from the agency's earlier line-sharing order that threatened to leave some competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC) without a way to reach users for even ordinary telephone service.
Line sharing is the process under which local loop owners must divide the high-frequency and low-frequency portions of the copper loop to allow simultaneous use by different carriers offering voice and data services. The problem is that incumbent local carriers are increasingly proposing to run fiber from their central offices (CO) to remote terminals and to place their DSL multiplexing equipment there to handle the remaining copper subloop to the user.
The most prominent example of such a scheme is SBC's Project Pronto, which aims to run fiber to up to 25,000 remote terminals. But the buildout of such terminals -- also known as next-generation digital loop carriers (DLC) -- is proceeding in other Bell territories (see graphic). According to recent CLEC petitions to the FCC, this has left the Bells free to reject line sharing on the grounds that the copper loop doesn't run all the way from the CO to the end user.
The FCC ruling clarifies that line sharing must apply equally in any hybrid fiber/copper buildout. The ruling principally benefits two types of CLECs, says Jonathan Askin, general counsel for the Association for Local Telecommunications Services, a CLEC trade group. One is smaller voice-oriented CLECs looking to cut deals with independent DSL providers that otherwise would have to partner only with Bells for their line-sharing projects.
The other beneficiary group consists of AT&T and WorldCom, which in some areas use a variation of Bell voice resale, called the "unbundled network element platform" to build mass-market share in partnership with DSL providers for consumer data offerings.
Askin says the ruling does not address the key issues of most larger, facilities-based CLECs that have been warring with SBC over fiber-fed next-generation DLC buildouts. These CLECs are pressing the FCC to order greater collocation rights in remote terminals and COs, more diverse trunking options using multiple ATM classes of service, and the right for CLECs to take over entire CO-to-premises copper loops that have been decommissioned by Bells.
Because new FCC Chairman Michael Powell has just taken office, Askin says he does not expect a comprehensive ruling on these and other issues until the spring or summer.