This week, the  FCC was cleared by the  Office of Management and Budget (OMB)  to collect data from sellers  and purchasers of special access services that include telecommunications carriers, Internet service providers (ISPs), business customers and other entities in support of an upcoming FCC analysis of the competitive state of the special access market. The OMB’s action enables the FCC to proceed with an effort that was initiated two years ago when the FCC voted to suspend benchmarks for deregulation of special access rates pending completion of an agency study into special access competition. The additional paperwork demands of that study required approval under the auspices of the Paperwork Reduction Act, which the OMB granted on Monday.

Special access services encompass last-mile broadband facilities as well as dedicated voice and data connections that link business, banking and educational networks. While incumbent telcos are required by the FCC to lease special access lines to competitors, the agency in 2009 decided to deregulate special access lines controlled by AT&T and other carriers once certain competitive triggers were met. Competitive carriers and public interest groups, however, have called on the FCC in recent years to tighten special access regulation in response to alleged competitive abuses. Acknowledging that special access “has become increasingly important in the digital economy,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler predicted in a press statement that the agency’s data collection efforts “will help the Commission better understand competition in this marketplace, and the impact on consumers, as we pursue the Commission’s statutory mandate to ensure special access services are provided at reasonable rates and on reasonable terms and conditions.”

Per the OMB directive, the FCC must require the reporting of data only for the most recent year and exclude from its definition of purchasers any entity that purchased less than $5 million in dedicated services in 2013. Among other things, the FCC must also require reporting of revenues and expenditures that are broken down by bandwidth “only if [the] respondent keeps such information in the normal course of business.” As Sprint welcomed the news that the FCC “will now be able to move forward on this long delayed and critical proceeding,” an official of Comptel voiced hope “that this process will lead to rapid, fact-based evaluation and correction of long-standing special access market failures so that small, mid-size and enterprise consumers . . . can benefit.”