November 5, 2009 / 10:49 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. regulators mull changes to phone access rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Thursday said it was mulling whether changes are needed to regulations governing access to telephone lines largely controlled by telecom giants.

In many areas throughout the United States, only one telecom firm maintains the special access lines that connect to individual businesses. The vast majority of lines are controlled by Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc and Qwest Communications International Inc.

Competitors such as wireless provider Sprint Nextel Corp that rely on telephone lines that are the remnants of the old Bell telephone company monopoly are pushing the FCC to lower prices for special access to those lines.

Sprint has been losing market share to AT&T and Verizon Wireless, a venture between Verizon and Vodafone Group Plc. Sprint has said it spends one-third of the operating costs for its 60,000 cell sites on special access lines.

The FCC issued a “public notice” seeking comments for 45 days on how to establish an appropriate analytical framework for examining the long-running “special access” issue. An additional 30 days will be allowed for replies to the FCC after the initial set of comments.

“Some parties assert that the commission’s current rules are working as intended and contend that there is extensive actual and potential competition in the market for special access,” the FCC notice said.

“Other parties assert that there is little or no competition for special access services,” the agency said.

The FCC said it wants to know if the regulatory pricing rates are “just” and “reasonable.”

The FCC notice drew praise from the NoChokePoints Coalition, which is supported by several public interest groups, Sprint and T-Mobile, the U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG

“This public notice is an important next step toward releasing the captive special access market from AT&T and Verizon’s long-standing chokehold,” the group’s spokeswoman, Maura Corbett, said in a statement.

The issue had been litigated in the courts. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit deferred the issue back to the FCC, saying the agency and the Congress will be able to reassess any needed changes based on market conditions.

Reporting by John Poirier, editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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