Launching what it described as “the next major step” in its review of competitive conditions in the U.S. special access service marketplace, the FCC announced that authorized members of the public will soon be able to review special access industry data that the FCC collected earlier this year, pursuant to the terms of an October 2014 protective order that safeguards “competitively sensitive information.”
 
To fulfill broadband transmission or capacity needs, large corporate customers and competitive carriers depend upon special access, which has been described by the FCC as “a wholesale data service widely purchased by businesses and institutions that provides dedicated, guaranteed transmission of high volumes of critical data.”  The FCC has been analyzing special access services as part of an ongoing proceeding to consider potential reforms to the sector, which brings an estimated $40 billion in annual revenues to incumbent providers.  Specifically, the rulemaking notice, issued in December 2012, seeks comment on “possible changes to [FCC] rules for the special access services provided by incumbent local exchange carriers in price cap areas.”  The Commission has also contracted Boston University Professor of Economics Marc Rysman to produce a white paper examining “the nature of competition and marketplace practices in the supply of special access services.” 
 
The FCC is releasing the special access data with the goal of enabling comment by interested parties, and the agency is extending the deadlines for comments and reply comments to November 20 and December 11, respectively, to accommodate public review.  Data collected by the FCC is stored in a secure enclave hosted by public policy research firm NORC, and authorized members of the public, including competitive wireline carriers and their counsel, will be contacted by NORC to access the data remotely or through NORC’s facilities in Bethesda, Maryland. 
 
As Sprint voiced confidence that the data “will incent the Commission to update 1990s policies which have undercut competition, innovation and productivity,” Comptel CEO Chip Pickering proclaimed that, “after a decade-long delay of much-needed reforms in this market . . . we are pleased to see Chairman Tom Wheeler and the FCC are moving this process forward.”  Countering that “the FCC has been encouraging competition for [special access] business customers since the mid-1980s,” a spokesman for US Telecom, which represents stakeholders in the special access market, said:  “thirty years later, we are confident that the data the FCC has collected will show that its policies have been successful.”