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Tele-Tech Updates

April 2013

Sip Interconnection - Why There's No Easy Solution

A contentious debate continues over the need and the authority of the FCC to regulate interconnection for Internet Protocol (IP) services. Not surprisingly, the battle pits large incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), like AT&T and Verizon, against smaller competitors. 

At the heart of the issue are sections 251 and 252 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, which require ILECs to engage in good faith negotiations with competitors wishing to interconnect with their networks, and to allow interconnection based on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms. The Act does not state that these requirements apply to specific technologies; and the competitors argue that the absence of a mention of technology makes interconnection rules technology neutral, meaning they apply to IP services as well as traditional wireline voice services.

ILECs, on the other hand, argue that IP services, including Voice over IP, are not telecommunications services, but rather, an information service; so the section does not apply.

Constituents from both sides of the debate wrangled over the issue during an Eckert Seamans-sponsored workshop at Comptel Plus, March 13, 2013. The session was titled "How the Section 251/252 Process Should Apply to SIP Interconnection".

Bill Weber, General Counsel of competitive carrier Cbeyond, opened the session by stressing section 251/252 makes no mention of technology. It simply requires interconnection at any technologically feasible point.  

In addition, Charter Communications presented statistical data supporting its stance that the incumbents are still the dominant carriers and should be regulated as such, including the continuation of requirements surrounding interconnection for IP services.

The sole representation from the ILEC side came from CenturyLink's Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs, Jeffrey Lanning. Lanning's comments stressed that questions need to be answered about IP interconnection before forward progress can be made, including the need to indentify where to interconnect, standards for SIP interconnection, and who pays for protocol conversion and transport. He advocated for commercially negotiated agreements with a framework for resolving disputes that should be designed based on desired policy outcomes that "we as a country and industry want and need."

Perhaps the most confrontational challenge to the CenturyLink position came from Joe Gillan of Gillan Consulting, who stated, "There's no sliver of legal ground upon which this ridiculousness stands." Gillan stressed there is "nothing broken" about the current law or framework and expressed the continued need for agreements that are in the public interest, that are non-discriminatory, that are made public, and that give other companies a right to "opt-in" to the same terms and conditions.

Gillan says the ILECs' avoidance of negotiating IP interconnection  has created a logjam. As an example, he cited a February 2012 filing in which Verizon stated it had one interconnection agreement for its FiOS service and was negotiating others. In a filing a full year later, Verizon still identified only one interconnection agreement for FiOS. "That agreement has never been filed, never been published," Gillan said. "Think of where we'd be if transparency was honored (and each company wanting to interconnect) was not starting from scratch."

Short of an FCC mandate or judicial intervention, the logjam is likely to continue, which Gillan argues is preventing other technical issues from being addressed. To that end, trade groups representing competitors to the big phone companies sent a letter to the FCC on March 21, 2013 urging the Commission to take action. The letter noted, "The policy justifications for requiring ILECs to interconnect their networks on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms do not diminish simply because the technology for exchanging telecommunications traffic changes."

Contrary to the competitors' views, AT&T in a January 2013 filing argued that while the Commission has jurisdiction over telecommunications services, the Commission lacks the authority to regulate interconnection between two providers of IP-based "information services," which includes VoIP.

The FCC is not expected to move quickly on the competitors' request, as the agency itself is in transition. Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced his resignation, and a successor has yet to be announced. 

 

Comment Period for Special Access Order Continues

The FCC is now sorting through thousands of pages of comments and replies to its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the special access for price cap LECs proceeding. Reply comments on Sections IV.A and IV.C were due March 12.

The Commission sought comment on a one-time, multi-faceted market analysis, which would be used to determine if any regulatory changes need to be made.  

Providers have until August 19 to comment on Section IV.B, which deals with possible changes to Pricing Flexibility Rules after the market analysis is completed. Replies are due September 30.

The FCC in December released a mandatory data collection order as part of its comprehensive evaluation of competition in the special access marketplace. Critics say current rules are not working.

Special access refers to the dedicated wireline service that provides physical voice and data connections between an interexchange carrier (IXC) and its customer locations. Special access enables cell towers to link to wireline networks and supplies the communications infrastructure for businesses, government and health institutions.

One of the chief concerns is the time it will take to comply with the order. CenturyLink filed a letter in January, estimating it will take the company about 40,000 hours to complete the data request.

The Commission wants to collect two years worth of data for market structure, price and demand; specifically, 2010 and 2012 pricing data on a monthly basis. All providers and purchasers of special access service are required to submit this data, with some exceptions.

The Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve the information collection and record-keeping requirements contained in Section III.A, which covers the mandatory data collection.

 

NANPA Q1 Recap

MINNESOTA

  • CHASKA rate center consolidated under TWINCITIES, effective April 1, 2013.
  • WEBSTER, PRIOR LAKE and NEW MARKET rate centers consolidated under TWINCITIES, effective April 8, 2013.

KENTUCKY

  • NPA 364 to overlay NPA 270, effective June 3, 2014.

OKLAHOMA

  • Projected exhaust date for 405 NPA changed from 1Q2016 to 4Q2016.

OHIO
Projected exhaust dates changed for the following NPAs:

  • 440 NPA is 2Q14, changed from 2Q26.
  • 614 NPA is 4Q14, changed from 2Q19.
  • 740 NPA is 2Q15, changed from 2Q16.
  • 513 NPA is 1Q18, changed from 3Q21.
  • Jeopardy declared for 440 NPA.

Q2 Contribution Factor

The proposed Universal Service Fund contribution factor for Second Quarter 2013 is 15.5 percent, down from 16.1 percent in the previous quarter.

 

Level 3 Pays $1 Million, Ends Investigation

Level 3 and the FCC reached a settlement in mid-March that ends an investigation into the carrier's rural call completion practices.

As part of the settlement, Level 3 will complete long-distance calls in rural areas at a rate within 5% of that in non-rural areas over a two-year period. Plus, the company will pay $975,000 to the United States Treasury.

The deal also requires Level 3 to:

  • Report compliance with the 5% benchmark every quarter, beginning in January 2014.
  • Develop scorecards for its intermediate providers.
  • Identify problematic routes to intermediate providers monthly.
  • Cease using poorly performing intermediate providers.
  • Assist the Enforcement Bureau in other investigations by providing data concerning the performance of intermediate providers.

The company will pay an additional $1 million if it misses the 5% benchmark in any quarter.


FCC Proposes New Rules for Rural Call Completion 

Rural telecom associations are applauding the FCC's move to address long-distance rural call completion issues.

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released in February, seeks comment on giving the FCC more power to enforce call completion rules. Comments are also sought on proposals that require more stringent data retention and reporting practices.

Examples of call completion problems include long periods of dead air after dialing a number, the call recipient not hearing ring tones, false busy signals and poor sound quality. Rural associations claim this is a widespread issue that continues to get worse, and the group has lobbied heavily for better enforcement.

The problem generally occurs in rural areas served by rate-of-return carriers, where call termination costs are higher than in non-rural areas. Rural associations suspect that calls are not being completed, because long-distance carriers or intermediate providers are using tactics to reduce Intercarrier compensation payments.

Specifics are detailed in the order. Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 45 days after publication.

 
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