FCC proposes new rules for business Internet

FCC proposes new rules for business Internet

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced plans Friday to bring more competition to a little-known but important market for broadband Internet services.

The field in question is known as “special access” and concerns the dedicated, high-capacity broadband connections used by certain businesses. Such connections can be used for ATM machines or to connect cellphone towers to a wireless network. Critics have long raised concerns that the market is dominated by incumbent firms like AT&T and Verizon.

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Wheeler said in a blog post that commissioners will vote on an item this month that seeks comments on making the marketplace more competitive.

“To that end, I propose to identify those markets that are competitive, and those that are not, and to adopt a tailored regulatory framework to mirror those distinctions,” he said.

An FCC official said that the item, which has been circulated to the other four commissioners, does not try to define what constitutes a competitive market.

The item also proposes a regulatory framework that is tech neutral. That means the same rules could apply to new players regardless of the technology they use to deliver Internet service.

That provision could trouble some providers, such as the cable industry, which is also worried about other market entrants. 

The cable industry, itself a newer entrant in the market, criticized a letter from Verizon and trade group INCOMPAS on Thursday that, among other suggestions, encouraged the commission to adopt a technologically neutral proposal.

The comments are sought as part of a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. A procedural step, the item is akin to formally considering regulations in a given area. It would take another vote of the five-member commission to adopt new rules.

The chairman also put forward an order finding some provisions of agreements between providers and their special access customers to be against the law. The order marks the end of an investigation into those plans announced by the FCC in October.

This story was updated at 12:50 p.m.