Cable group says “Bedrock Interconnection Protections” in Telecom Act should apply to cable VoIP providers

The American Cable Association (ACA) has urged the FCC to halt VoIP Interconnection trials sought by AT&T and others because the group contends they are unnecessary in making a legal determination that “bedrock interconnection protections” found in sections 251 and 252 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 apply to cable VoIP providers, regardless of the communications technology used.

“The FCC should act now to affirm that regardless of technology, all interconnection for the exchange of traffic is governed by sections 251 and 252 of the Act,” said Matthew Polka, president of the ACA. “Confirming that interconnection rights exist when exchanging managed VoIP traffic is the critical issue the FCC should address.”

The ACA’s views were filed July 8 with the FCC in response to the public notice issued by the agency’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, which sought input on three specific trials: VoIP Interconnection, Next Generation 911 and Wireline to Wireless.

ACA commented only on the VoIP Interconnection trial and, to the extent it involves similar issues, on the AT&T IP Trial proposal. The group’s members face regulatory-related issues in exchanging managed VoIP traffic, stemming from the fact that incumbent providers possess and exercise market power when it comes to interconnection negotiations. 

ACA members, the group said, need to rely upon the interconnection framework of section 251(c)(2) and 252(d)(1) of the 1996 Telecom Act to ensure they are able to interconnect with dominant telcos at cost-based rates and on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms.

Despite competition in select retail voice markets, larger phone companies continue to dominate the interconnection and transit markets, ACA said. Because the larger telco carriers operate in and control larger geographic areas than any competitive provider, they control more end points that competitors need to reach and have less need to interconnect with other providers to terminate traffic. This places the larger telcos in a dominant position in interconnection negotiations with competitive providers.

Additionally, the two largest players — AT&T and Verizon — gain additional leverage in negotiations because they control significant volumes of wireless and international traffic through their unregulated affiliates; and the larger networks not only reach many more end points than any competitive provider, they include vastly more transport links and longer-haul facilities.

As a legal matter, the FCC should first determine that sections 251 and 252 apply regardless of the transmission technology, the ACA said. Then, if there is a forbearance proceeding, it would collect economic data about the state of the market and analyze it to determine whether the telcos have market power.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said it supported the trials, at least in theory, but that it did not have enough information to make a sound decision on them.

“At this stage of the proceeding, in the absence of any proposal that includes details regarding a trial (such as where it is taking place, precisely what will be tested, and how the test environment will differ from the status quo), it is difficult for cable operators to offer much input in response,” the NCTA said in a statement.