Acting on a petition filed by US Telecom, the FCC granted incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) full or partial forbearance from a variety of rules that govern competitive access to ILEC networks, including rules that require ILECs to grant rival operators access to new, or “greenfield” buildouts of broadband special access entrance conduits. The order, adopted on December 17 and released to the public on Monday, forbears from enforcing various 1990s-era rules that governed the entry of the former Bell operating companies into the long distance market. The FCC has since deemed these rules to be “irrelevant . . . in today’s changed marketplace.” In addition to eliminating obsolete rules from the 1980s and 1990s that require ILECs to offer competitive access to “enhanced” voice mail and fax services, the order also scraps rules that require ILECs to protect stand-alone long distance services—a product which the FCC acknowledges is “disappearing.” The FCC further stated it will no longer enforce a rarely-invoked (and, according to US Telecom, costly to implement) rule that requires ILECs to provide competitive access to 64 Kbps voice grade channels in areas where ILEC copper loops have been retired.

Although the order states that ILECs will no longer be required to share access to greenfield deployments of broadband entrance conduits, the FCC decided to retain requirements for sharing existing, or “brownfield,” entrance conduits “given the advantages the [ILECs] enjoy in these situations.” ILEC obligations to offer rural voice services at affordable rates, prohibitions against the use of ILEC business data service contract tariffs in areas not deemed to be competitive, and safeguards that protect enterprise long distance services will also remain in force.

As the FCC remarked that the purpose of its order is to “eliminate regulatory burdens that can stifle investment while maintaining core protections,” a US Telecom spokesman told reporters: “we are grateful for the FCC’s action . . . and look forward to continuing to work with the Commission to update other antiquated policies that apply only to legacy voice telephone companies, no longer make sense, impede investment in broadband, and inhibit competition with wireless, cable and other technologies.”