In our industry, it’s easy to ‘geek out’ over the latest technology while taking for granted what many Americans are still waiting for: reliable and affordable broadband access. Certainly, better technologies, improved delivery systems and policy decisions by the FCC, have been instrumental in narrowing the digital divide, including its new “One Touch Make Ready” (OTMR) policy. OTMR replaces today’s ‘decision by committee’ process of deciding whether to grant utility pole access with one that allows attachers to request an expedited option for less complex projects.
Windstream serves many rural areas and we’re keenly aware that broadband access is still an issue for many of these customers. An FCC report confirms that the digital divide that still exists between urban and rural areas where access to FCC-benchmark levels of terrestrial and mobile broadband is less than 70% in rural areas (even lower on Tribal lands) vs. 97% in urban.
Access to poles is only part of the problem. The FCC is also reviewing the disparate rates that ILEC’s (including Windstream) and other telco providers pay to attach to electric utility’s poles. In one state alone, Windstream pays the co-op electric utility four times more than to an investor-owned utility for the same access. That may be great for the co-op’s owners, but it does little to advance the speed of their customer’s internet connection.
The FCC’s OTMR policy and rate review will go a long way toward increasing reliable and affordable broadband access in un- and under-served areas. We hope it encourages greater ‘co-operation’ among fellow providers in rural areas, as well. Learn more about the first step to simplify broadband deployment here.
This past summer was off to a dizzying start as telecommunications providers split on the matter of unbundled network elements (UNEs) pricing. On one side, the big Telcos argued that the FCC should let incumbent providers out of their obligation to provide UNEs at reasonable rates. Moreover, their proposal called for an immediate 15 percent price increase followed by an 18-month transition period. The other side, including Windstream and other providers, argued that these were untenable terms that would hinder competition, innovation and lead to higher costs for businesses and consumers.
Fortunately, both sides saw the futility of a prolonged debate and have worked together to present the FCC with a more balanced approach. The new proposal calls for an extended transition period to February 2021 (vs. 18-months) and no price increase before then.
We all realize that this compromise does not eliminate the bigger issue of how we in the industry will deal with the rapid pace of change. What it does do, however, is give everyone time to take a step back and consider the implications of our decisions on innovation and improving the customer experience, two outcomes sought by all providers. For now, equilibrium has been restored and we can turn our minds and energies back to providing world-class solutions that enable our customers’ transition into the digital age.
You can read more about the agreement reached here.
The FCC has wisely extended the comment deadline on big telcos’ proposal to change the rules on providing UNEs to competitors at wholesale prices. This delay imposes a much-needed ‘cooling off’ period for parties on both sides of the argument. It gives USTelecom, representing those in favor of the change, time to reevaluate its position and present a more realistic proposal—one that reconsiders the significant impact that the price increases and impossible timelines embedded in their current proposal will have on customers. Moreover, it gives companies like Windstream and its partners in INCOMPAS, the trade group representing competitive providers of telecommunications services, adequate time to review and respond to their updated arguments by the new September 5 comment deadline.
During the interim period, Windstream will continue as an active participant in this debate to keep competition alive and well in the marketplace. Let me assure you that this is not a battle we relish, but believe it is worth fighting when the stakes are as high as they are. Competition enables choices in products, solutions and prices, and it’s a big reason Windstream is where it is today. For us, competition is a matter of principle, and we won’t let the heat off those who put their best interests ahead of our loyal customers and partners. You have our word on that. To read more, click here.
The telecommunications industry is not unlike many other industries in the sense that we like to ‘prove’ our position by quoting a study that validates it. The problem is that it’s relatively easy to find someone who will create a position paper or study that will prove just about anything. Big telcos’ proposal before the FCC to increase prices is based on just such a study. “Assessing the Impact of Forbearance from 251(c)(3) on Consumers, Capital Investment and Jobs” contains some facts, but a lot more fiction that is both disingenuous and misleading about the real impact of their policy position.
One of the biggest deceptions is the study’s ‘apples to oranges’ comparison that equates the rate of customer migration to new technologies to what occurred during the simple voice UNE-P conversions of the past. Comparing simple voice UNE-P to the complexities of converting UNE T1s to next-generation products clearly shows a lack of understanding of the economics of today’s networks and ignores the amount of investment required to deliver the functionality demanded by enterprises in an increasingly cloud-based, digital environment. The study goes on to tout that resulting price increases passed along to customers will lead big telcos who reap the rewards of increased revenues will pour that windfall back into capital investments in the network. More likely is that the windfall will make its way to their bottom line or debt retirement. Both are completely understandable and legitimate motives, but when presenting a case with the end-user impacts inherent in this proposal, Windstream believes we owe it to our customers and industry partners to ensure that our position is supported by facts and a healthy dose of reality. For more on this, click here.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t pay that much attention to what the FCC is doing. They deal in the realms of complex technology policy issues that just don’t seem all that relevant – until they are. There’s an issue before the FCC right now that the biggest telecoms are completely happy to keep ‘under wraps,’ and while that suits them, it has serious consequences for consumers, enterprises and fellow telecom providers like Windstream if their position is adopted. In short, they want the FCC to give incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) a pass when it comes to their obligation to provide unbundled network elements, or UNEs, to competitors at wholesale prices. The result is higher prices being charged for the UNEs that ultimately will be passed on to the end-user customer.
As an ILEC ourselves, it may seem odd to see Windstream on the opposing side of this argument. We’re subject to the same rules as the policy change proponents and are obligated to provide UNEs to companies who want to purchase them from us. The difference is that Windstream sees competition as one of the biggest and most effective drivers of positive change in our industry. The current policy enacted in 1996 has enabled competitors and ILECs alike to make investments in the country’s network and technology infrastructure. These investments have led to the incredible innovations and dramatic growth we’ve seen in the past 20 years since the Act was passed. In many cases, these advances mean more cost-effective solutions as technology gets ‘smarter,’ helping end-users do more with less and more simply. While it’s true that competition isn’t for everyone, Windstream stands firm in the belief that if it means more of what we’ve seen so far, we’re happy to be on the side of ensuring that the market is ready to offer customers more and better choices to meet their telecommunication needs. For more on this, click here.