Monday, March 20, 2006

FCC Near Deciding Verizon's Broadband Request

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The U.S. telecoms regulator was poised to reveal on Monday whether it would ease numerous regulations on some of Verizon Communications' high-speed, broadband data services for lucrative business customers.

The No. 2 U.S. telephone carrier asked the Federal Communications Commission in December 2004 to lift restrictions for business services such as carrying data over Ethernet and Internet-based virtual private networks, arguing there was sufficient competition.

Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has supported granting the request as part of his agenda to push broadband deployment. The FCC eased similar rules for Verizon and other big local phone carriers serving residential broadband customers last year.

"I'm hopeful that we will be able to provide some regulatory relief for the incumbents deployment of fiber to not just consumers but to commercial entities as well," he told reporters on Friday.

The FCC has until midnight on Sunday to block or modify Verizon's request. Because of the type of petition, no action by the commission would allow it to take effect.

Martin, who controls the agency's agenda, had not circulated for a vote by the other FCC commissioners an order that would modify or block Verizon's petition as of Sunday evening, two sources following the matter said.

The agency is expected to announce its action on Monday. FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper declined to comment because the deadline had not yet passed.

The two Democrats on the commission have objected to granting the request, the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. But because Martin controls the agenda, he could just let the petition take effect despite objections.

Verizon's request includes lifting regulations on its business broadband data services that require the company to connect with competing networks, to negotiate just and reasonable terms for its services, and to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes communications for rural and low-income households.

In an FCC filing last month, Verizon did offer to continue paying into the fund for a period of time. A company spokesman declined to comment ahead of the decision.

The request also covers rules that require Verizon to make its business broadband service accessible to those with disabilities and require it keep customer records confidential.

Comptel, a group that represents Verizon's rivals such as XO Communications, has said lifting the regulations would hobble competition and unfairly benefit one company.

Earl Comstock, Comptel's chief executive, told Reuters that if Martin allows the petition to take effect, it would "carry out whatever is beneficial to Verizon" and harm others.

By: Jeremy Pelofsky

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