By a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, the FCC approved a Report and Order that suspends incumbent carrier petitions for flexibility in the pricing of special access lines, pending reform of the special access rules that were first adopted in 1999. All three FCC Democrats voted in favor of the order, which was adopted earlier this month but published last week. Collectively, high capacity special access lines serve as a major conduit for broadband and data services and thus play a crucial role in ATM and credit card transactions in addition to e-mail and Internet transmissions. The FCC’s decision to suspend special access pricing flexibility follows on complaints, filed by competitive local exchange carriers and wireless operators, claiming that special access rates charged by AT&T, Verizon Communications and other wireline incumbents are excessively high. Citing the agency’s conclusion that the current rules “are not working as intended,” FCC Chairman Genachowski explained that the FCC would “temporarily suspend outdated rules that not only allow incumbent carriers to raise prices in the absence of competition but also deny them the flexibility to lower prices in the presence of competition.” Genachowski further stated that the suspension will remain in effect “as we determine what permanent rules would best promote a healthy competitive marketplace.” As part of that process, the FCC also approved the launch of a mandatory data request within 60 days that would help provide the agency with the evidence it needs to support future rule changes. Endorsing the order, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn proclaimed that price cap regulation “is designed to ensure that rates are just and reasonable,” as she stressed that flexibility from such regulation “should only occur where there are disciplinary forces of effective competition.” In dissenting statements, however, Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Ajit Pai took issue with the majority’s decision to suspend flexibility petitions before the FCC had gathered market and other data in support of that action. As Pai predicted that the order “will chill infrastructure investment, slow the deployment of next generation networks, and impede job creation,” McDowell charged: “the majority chose to lay its procedural path backwards.” McDowell’s opinion was echoed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), who decried the FCC’s decision as one that violates “good process.”