The regulatory battle over special access is not new, but along with the change in political winds has come a new vehicle for the have-nots. The NoChokePoints coalition fired a volley this week complaining that some 80-90% of backhaul is under monopoly control and called for caps to be put in place to prevent excessive pricing. Verizon and AT&T fired back immediately but mainly at Sprint, basically calling them pansies for blaming their problems on others. The name calling, which was of course not as blunt as my own characterization, of course allows them to not answer the charges. That's because they can and do take advantage of their monopoly position, to whatever extent they are allowed to either legally or in the public eye. To do otherwise would be economically irrational. They mostly got their way during the previous administration, and the other side is hoping the pendulum might be ready to swing back the other way.
So who exactly is the NoChokePoints coalition? According to media reports, it's TMobile and Sprint and some mostly unnamed little friends. Here is a more detailed summary of its members:
- The #3 and #4 wireless providers in the US: TMobile and Sprint Nextel
- Two other wireless providers: Clearwire and US Cellular
- One international PTT with dreams of a real presence here: BT
- Two CLECs with lots of their own fiber but who still buy lots of special access: XO Communications, TW Telecom,
- Four CLECS who have less fiber and depend more heavily on special access: Covad, CBeyond, Integra Telecom, One Communications
- Five special interest groups: Public Knowledge, New America Foundation, USPIRG, Media Access Project, ACUTA
So who's not on the list? Qwest and Embarq/Centurytel/CenturyLink are obviously not there because they may be smaller but they are aligned with VZ and T. But also not there are Global Crossing and Level 3 Communications, nor are there any other foreign PTTs with arms that serve multinational companies and depend on such services - like NTT or Orange Business or Teliasonera. I suppose one might say that T-Mobile USA could represent DT in that way though.
What you won't see on the membership list are many pure metro fiber providers. TW Telecom and XO have such assets of course, but they also use quite a lot of special access from the ILECs. However, for most other pure metro providers, 'excessive' special access pricing by the incumbents actually makes their job easier. Wherever there is inequity in pricing, there is an opportunity for those who know how to put fiber in the ground economically. That's the only real solution here anyway. Regulating prices in a market as complex as telecom can be like repairing a dam with duct tape, it only works well when the water stays below the patch.
We need more alternative fiber in the ground, else we will be doing this over and over again forever. If NoChokePoints gets what it wants, it will help them in the short term. Yet it will also reduce the case for the building of alternative infrastructure. Hmm, Dave Rusin's screeds must be rubbing off on me a bit today.
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