A couple of weeks ago, a group of CEOs from seven small regional ISPs gathered in Washington to meet with the FCC. In a closed-door conversation with Chairman Ajit Pai and his colleagues, the CEOs made a case against a recent petition filed by USTelecom -- a trade association that claims AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and Frontier Communications as members. The petition, if granted, would threaten their very existence and, they argue, the future of competitive high-speed internet across the nation.
Filed in May this year, that petition would essentially get rid of a key requirement in the 1996 Telecommunications Act: that incumbent telephone companies are required to sell parts of their copper-line infrastructure -- called unbundled network elements (UNEs) -- to competitors at regulated rates. "The purpose of the 1996 Act was to inject competition to the incumbent markets of companies like AT&T and Verizon," Ernesto Falcon, a legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Engadget.
In the late '90s, that's exactly what happened. Small ISPs -- called competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) -- cropped up across the country. They used those UNEs to start their own telephone and internet companies. Instead of spending a lot of time and money installing their own infrastructure, they could simply lease out existing copper lines and build out a customer base that way.
USTelecom argues that it's not 1996 anymore. It says that there's already a competitive marketplace, and that there's no longer a need to share its network with anyone. It says that freeing it up from this obligation will allow it to build faster, cheaper networks for consumers.