The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has issued a decision upholding Federal Communications Commission rules on unbundling, saying that the telecoms will have to continue offering access to their networks to some competitors at discounted rates. This allows companies such as Covad Communications to offer DSL and other information services to local businesses.
In 2003, the FCC made an unpopular change to its telecommunications policy, allowing the telecoms to stop leasing their local lines to competitors. This had the effect of constricting consumer choice, as telecoms could freeze out competing DSL providers from leasing their lines. The rule change did not apply to business customers, which prompted the telecoms to sue in an effort to have that portion of the rules reversed.
DSL providers such as Covad, Speakeasy, Earthlink, and others are able to continue offering services in some areas via dedicated-loop DSL. In the nascent days of broadband, dedicated-loop was the primary method of delivering ADSL. It uses a dedicated line that does not require voice services, but fell out of favor once DSL providers were able to use voice lines from the local telecoms. When the FCC changed its rules, dedicated-loop DSL made a comeback.
The FCC likes the concept of competition, but applies it in a manner many find unsettling. It is happy to hand the cable companies and telecoms monopolies over their cable and new fiber networks, saying that competition exists when the consumer has a choice between cable or DSL. Unfortunately, many US residents lack access to more than one type of broadband (I can get cable, but not DSL in my Chicago neighborhood), and others are stuck with dialup.
Competition for broadband is important, and it lurks large in the background of the discussion about network neutrality. The way the US broadband industry is regulated, consumers who might see some traffic throttled on their networks may not have another broadband provider to turn to if they don’t like a tiered Internet.
The court’s ruling is good news for business customers will be able to pick and choose from telecommunications services providers. It’s a pity that American consumers do not get to enjoy the same degree of choice.