Phone Forbearance Follies

I’m no fan of the phone companies’ tactics of stifling competition in broadband through the strategic deployment of lobbyists in Washington. Thanks to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, they have gotten what they needed. Perhaps that’s why I was struck by this Ars Technica headline: “Grab your wallet: Qwest wants release from line-sharing rule.”

The Ars report points to a study by QSI Consulting which concludes that: “Qwest’s bid for local deregulation will unleash $1.14 billion in higher charges annually for customers in four major Western markets if approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).” Wow, that’s sure to get everyone’s attention — especially mine, since I’ve been watching the slow asphyxiation of the 1996 Telecom Act for some time now. (I should note, however, that I also am skeptical of claims made by the study, mostly because QSIConsulting counts XO Communications as a customer and the study was commissioned by XO.)

If Qwest gets its way, it won’t have to provide its lines (and facilities) on a wholesale basis, which essentially means there is no way independent companies can exist unless they build their own facilities. And that, of course, is why XO Communications is up in arms. The arguments to deny Qwest’s request are many and valid. Verizon also wants to back away from giving wholesale access to its competitors. I think this is a crummy move by the phone companies. They got everything they ever could have wanted out of the 1996 Act; any concessions they had to made they’ve since sneakily reneged on. XO is right.