Friday, December 22, 2006

"FCC kills build-out requirements"

Ars Technica does it again. The tech site displays political savvy that is completely missing by traditional newsgathers like the NYTimes and the LATimes, to wit:
"But more importantly, the vote does away with most build-out requirements. Those requirements generally insist that companies offer service to all the residents in the town, rather than cherry-picking the profitable areas "
That's in reference to Wednesday's partisan FCC decision that handed the phone companies, but especially AT&T, what they couldn't win in Congress: Federal control of the local franchises. Wireline cable TV providers have paid for the right to use public property to get their lines to customers. The elimination of the community's ability to insist on full buildout in its boundaries in trade for the use of its property is, As Ars Technica insists, the most important issue.

The FCC's move remains murky since the Republican majority voted in the change without releasing the "details" to the public. There will be a 90 day "shot clock" on local negotiations. (What happens if they can't reach an agreement? The corporation is allowed to just take what it wants? It's not yet clear--but probably.) The order will not allow local communities to propose "unreasonable" buildout requirements. (Hmmn. What's unreasonable? Anything that the corporation won't agree to during that 90 day window? It's not yet clear--but probably.)

One thing that is clear is that municipalities and consumer groups are revving up to sue, claiming that the FCC doesn't have the authority to issue the sort of extra-legal change in policy. (BusinessWeek bemoans the upcoming era of litigation.) The incoming chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Ed Markey, has made it clear in a message remarked on in Ars Technica that he felt the FCC had overstepped its bounds by aiding the phone companies end run around Congress:
Markey worried that the FCC had upstaged Congress by taking the matter into its own hands after Congress failed to pass pending legislation on the topic earlier this year. "Overall, I believe the haste with which the Commission has acted may lead to problematic and unintended consequences," Markey went on to say. "In some instances, the Commission may be acting without clear legal authority." Markey then said that he looked forward to "reviewing today's decision and examining its implications for consumers, communities, and competition next year."
It's not over till its over...Congress has yet to weigh in. What you can do is write your Congresscritter and suggest that turning local property and local decision-making over to partisan federal bureaucrats was not the sort of thing they should be allowing to happen on their watch if they'd like to be re-elected.

Visit Boustany, Landrieu, and Vitter's web contact pages and write 'em a little note.

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