On April 20, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) initiated three interrelated proceedings in new WC Docket No. 17-84 that aim to “better enable broadband providers to build, maintain, and upgrade their networks” and transition from legacy copper networks to next-generation networks and services. The docket consists of three interrelated parts: a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”), and Request for Comment (“RFC”) (collectively, the “Wireline Infrastructure Proceeding”). The Commission hopes to promote “more affordable and available Internet access and other broadband services.”

The Wireline Infrastructure Proceeding complements another docket that is looking at wireless broadband infrastructure, also adopted at the FCC’s April 20 Open Meeting. Please review our blog and advisory on the wireless counterpart for details on those proceedings.

The FCC seeks comment in the NPRM on proposed regulatory measures to better facilitate deployment, maintenance, and upgrading of wireline broadband networks in three basic areas. First, the Commission seeks to

  • reform and shorten the timelines for new attachers to gain access to poles;
  • examine more extensively the use of approved third-party contractors to do make-ready work;
  • create greater transparency about make-ready charges and streamline the make-ready process;
  • consider a pole-attachment complaint shot clock for Commission decisions; and
  • facilitate the attachments of incumbent local exchange carriers to poles at rates more comparable to competitive local exchange attachers.

The examination of shorter applications timelines and make-ready charges may be seen by many competitive provider attachers as particularly welcome. Second, the Commission is taking a close look at the streamlining the copper retirement process, including potential revisions or reversals to decisions made in the previous administration. Finally, the Commission looks to revise discontinuance process under Section 214 of the Communications Act (“the Act”), focusing on applications that grandfather existing customers and reconsideration of certain actions taken by the prior FCC, and the treatment of wholesale customer subscribers.

The NOI focuses on issues of preemption of state and local laws affecting broadband deployment and copper retirement. The Commission makes a number of inquiries regarding the scope of its legal authority. The NOI also looks at state laws that govern copper retirement.

Finally, the RFC seeks input on several discrete issues concerning the discontinuance process under Section 214 of the Act beyond those raised by the NPRM, specifically of what constitutes the scope of a “service” for Section 214 purposes.

In our client advisory on the Commencement of the Wireline Infrastructure Proceeding, we discuss in depth key proposed modifications and topics on which the Commission seeks comment.

Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and reply comments are due 60 days after publication.