Senators weigh in on FCC's business internet reform plans

Senators weigh in on FCC's business internet reform plans
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A group of senators is raising concerns about the data the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is using to review proposed reforms to the market for high-capacity business internet connections.

A proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would reform the so-called special-access market for high-level broadband connections used by businesses. Special-access contracts could be used to make sure ATMs stay online, for example, or connect a wireless tower with a carrier’s larger network.

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Nine lawmakers asked him in a Monday letter to consider data submitted by the industry when crafting a final version of the item. They did not ask him to delay the proceeding, which sometimes occurs when lawmakers criticize FCC proposals.

“Today, we write to emphasize the importance of ensuring that the final rule in the Commission’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) on business data services is based on accurate industry data and promotes strong continued investment in broadband infrastructure,” they said.

“As you work toward a final rule, it is especially important for rural states like ours that the Commission use all the available data, including the data submitted earlier this year by the major cable operators, to both measure competitive markets accurately and ensure that the regulations for noncompetitive markets are based on the real cost to provide service.”

The lawmakers also said they "appreciate the Commission’s goal with the FNPRM to incentivize telecommunications providers to build and invest in networks while enhancing competition among the various providers of business data services."

The letter was led by Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (D-Mont.) and joined by seven other Democrats and independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingBipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year New intel chief inherits host of challenges Senators ask for committee vote on 'red flag' bills after shootings MORE (Maine).

Reforms are supported both by smaller operators who struggle to compete with large telecommunication firms and by some bigger players. But several major industry players — including cable companies — have concerns about the proposed reforms.

In a statement, a coalition of companies that compete with larger broadband providers praised the lawmakers for their support of competition in the marketplace and defended the data the commission used to develop the item.

"We welcome and applaud the Senators’ support for competition policy that will help rural communities and small businesses," said the Broadband Coalition. "The FCC has compiled the most comprehensive data collection in history, which clearly shows overwhelming market power, indicating monopoly and duopoly control are driving up prices for business customers, schools and libraries."

A coalition of companies that highlighted the letter has expressed reservations about the proposal, urging the commission to “get the facts right before issuing new regulations that would wrench billions of investment out of the market and discourage competition.”

The item is expected to come up for a final vote later this year.

— This post was updated at 11:05 p.m.