DSL providers seek level playing field

Competitive DSL providers continue to complain that one of the barriers preventing them from rolling out DSL more rapidly is a lack of cooperation on the part of incumbent local exchange carriers.

Supporting those claims is a pair of recent regulatory decisions ruling that some ILECs aren't opening local loop access to competitors as quickly as they should.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission slapped BellSouth with a $750,000 fine for failing to disclose local loop cost information to DSL provider Covad Communications. In the previous week, the U.S. Department of Justice told the FCC that Verizon, which is applying to the FCC to sell long-distance services in Massachusetts, had not given DSL competitors open access to its local loops in the state.

The difficulties competitive DSL providers are having with ILECs aren't surprising, says Adam Guglielmo, an analyst with the consultancy TeleChoice.

"This is something that's been going on since the beginning," he says.

For a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) or DSL provider to start service for a new customer, the ILEC, which owns the last-mile local loop, must provision the loop. CLECs and DSL providers have complained that the ILECs do not make the necessary changes to transfer a customer from the ILEC to a CLEC quickly enough.

"If you've visited any of the ILEC offices, you'd know that people at the ILECs don't feel well toward the competitive providers," Guglielmo says. "The competitors will never be a priority for them."

Ultimately, Guglielmo says, CLECs want the customer-transfer process to be automated, and software that makes the process more automatic is maturing.

In BellSouth's case, the FCC ruled that BellSouth refused to negotiate in good faith with Covad when the ILEC failed to provide Covad with local loop cost figures for six months. Competitive providers such as Covad need the loop cost data to judge whether they are being charged fair local loop leasing rates by the ILECs.

In its ruling, the FCC noted that BellSouth offered to give Covad the rates if Covad signed a nondisclosure agreement. However, because Covad would have needed to reveal the cost data to a regulatory body if a dispute between Covad and BellSouth arose, the company was right in its refusal to sign the agreement, the FCC says.

Jason Oxman, senior government affairs counsel for Covad, says his company is pleased with the FCC decision. Although the fine goes into the federal treasury, Covad got written guarantees from BellSouth that the ILEC will provide information to competitors on a timely basis.

"The most important aspect for us is the behavioral changes they've committed to making for the future," Oxman says.

ILECs have gradually gotten better at giving competitors access to their local loops, Oxman notes. He believes the main reason for this improvement is the regulatory pressure the FCC has put on ILECs.

Oxman says the ILECs still don't allow completely open access to their networks and notes that Covad still has several pending complaints before the FCC.

"Ultimately we're waiting for the day when the incumbents view us as wholesale customers, rather than competitors," he says.

Justice vs. Verizon

In Massachusetts, Verizon is disputing the Justice Department's findings that it is not oppening local loop access. In fact, Verizon officials say the ILEC is giving competitive providers the same service it gives its own DSL customers.

Verizon spokesperson Jack Hoey notes the Justice Department filed a similar finding with the FCC when Verizon was applying for long-distance licensing in New York, which it later received.

Hoey says the Justice Department had more than a month to reach its conclusions, while the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy has completed a 16-month investigation of Verizon and approved the ILEC's long-distance application.

"When you look at the DSL stats, it's clear we are providing nondiscriminatory access," Hoey says.

In most cases, Verizon is handling competitors' orders in six days, approximately the same amount of time it takes to fulfill Verizon's own orders, Hoey says.

However, he adds that in some cases the process takes longer because competitors do not always prequalify the local loops over which customers will be getting DSL service and often do not file repair orders on weekends.

This story, "DSL providers seek level playing field" was originally published by Network World.

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