Groups voice opposition to DSL deregulation

Move would drive many ISPs out of business, IT organization says

WASHINGTON - A consumer group and an IT trade group are asking the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reconsider an anticipated move toward deregulating DSL (digital subscriber line) broadband service.

As soon as its meeting Friday, the FCC could begin the process of removing requirements that the nation's four giant incumbent telecom carriers share their DSL lines with competing ISPs (Internet service providers). Late last month, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he would push the commission to ease DSL line-sharing requirements after the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld an earlier FCC decision to exempt cable TV providers from giving ISPs access to cable modem lines.

But an FCC decision to deregulate DSL could drive many ISPs out of business, said Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), a trade group representing several Internet firms. The FCC would "condemn consumers to higher prices, fewer choices, lower service quality, and reduced innovation" if it removes the line-sharing rules, Harris Miller, ITAA president, said in a statement.

Martin said in July he had pitched a DSL proposal to the rest of the commission. But as of Thursday afternoon, a DSL item had not been added to the FCC's agenda for its Friday morning meeting.

The four large incumbent telecom carriers -- often called the regional Bells -- have long argued that the FCC was treating them unfairly by requiring them to allow competitors to use their DSL lines, while cable companies offering similar broadband services were not required to allow competitors to use their lines. Representatives of Verizon Communications Inc. and SBC Communications Inc., two of the regional Bells, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but the Bells have suggested that the line-sharing agreements discourage their investment in new services and features for their broadband products.

But Consumers Union, a national consumers group, said DSL deregulation could cause broadband prices to rise and give consumers fewer choices. With Martin's support, a move toward DSL deregulation is "regrettable and inevitable," said Kenneth DeGraff, policy analyst for Consumers Union. He called on the U.S. Congress to overrule the FCC when the commission moves forward with DSL deregulation.

"Now the FCC is applying the cable modem model of high prices, no competition and spotty service to DSL," DeGraff said. "Congress needs to decide if they want deregulation or competition. Consumers benefit from competition, not deregulation of uncompetitive industries."

ITAA asked the FCC to avoid a "hasty" DSL decision, with Miller calling a vote in the next couple of months "premature and ill considered."


Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.