August 9, 1996
Re: Implementation of the Local Competition Provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
Today we are fulfilling one of the most important responsibilities assigned to us by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- writing the rules that will achieve Congress's vision of fair and robust competition in all telecommunications markets. We are doing so with utmost fidelity to the letter and the spirit of the statute.
At the heart of the legislation is a bold commitment to supplant monopoly with competition. Based on the abundant benefits that have flowed to consumers as a result of competition in the provision of long distance services, information services, and customer- premises equipment, Congress decreed that the opportunity for competition be extended to the local telephone market. It ordered that barriers to entry be swept aside -- and that pathways to competitive entry be opened.
Sections 251 and 252 of the 1996 Act establish the foundation for this competition. On this foundation must be built radically different relationships than those that have previously existed -- between incumbent local exchange carriers and new entrants, between state and federal regulators, and between regulators and industry.
Congress recognizes that, to effectuate a new policy of local competition for markets that have traditionally been protected monopolies, a national policy framework is essential. But it also recognizes the need for flexibility. This balance is reflected in the 1996 Act, which sets forth the key principles in the statute, instructs this Commission to formulate implementing regulations, and assigns many of the duties pertaining to specific carriers and agreements to the state commissions.
At the same time, Congress encouraged voluntary negotiations between incumbent local exchange carriers and new entrants. Although voluntary agreements are not subject to Section 251 and our implementing regulations, we are aware that the negotiations may be influenced by the legislative and regulatory regime for arbitrated agreements. The "backdrop" of our rules should encourage, not impede, the successful negotiation of voluntary agreements.
The 1996 Act intends that the benefits of competition be available in all 50 states, not some lesser number. Congress recognized that some states were already making progress in the introduction of local competition, and it sought to permit that progress to continue. Consistent with the statute, the rules we promulgate today will enable those states in the vanguard to continue on their procompetitive course. Other states are being given the tools necessary to accelerate their progress. All states will have considerable responsibility for effectuating the transition to competition within their own borders.
Our decisions in this proceeding are the product of extensive discussions with state regulators concerning a wide variety of legal, economic, policy, and practical issues. The insights that have been shared with us by state regulators have guided us throughout our deliberations. Maintaining a successful partnership between state and federal regulators will be essential to fulfill the legislative expectations underlying the new structure set out in Sections 251 and 252 of the 1996 Act.
Out duty is to establish rules that are procompetition, not pro-competitor. Competitive access providers, cable companies, interexchange carriers, wireless companies, and others will all bring unique skills and strategies to the new competitive arena. Today's ruling, and the decisions that will follow from the state commissions, will enable all of these entities to compete robustly, and without hindrance based on other entities' entrenched market power.
In today's order, we are also facilitating new entry by identifying a core set of unbundled network elements that new entrants may obtain, singly or in combination, from incumbent LECs, to create new and innovative services. We send correct economic signals to potential entrants by requiring the use of forward-looking pricing principles. We promote voluntary negotiations by establishing minimal rules regarding the duty to bargain in good faith. We are providing immediate relief from CMRS-LEC interconnection agreements that violate fair play and flout our existing rules. In these and other respects, we act forcefully to bring to the local telephone market the dramatic change Congress intended.
Yet we also maintain fair treatment to the incumbent local exchange carriers. They are entitled to fair prices for the services and elements they offer, and our pricing principles accordingly reject costing methods that ignore the LECs' current network architecture or deny recovery of reasonable joint and common costs. The special needs of smaller incumbents, especially rural telcos, must be addressed with extra care, and just as Congress intended, we safeguard them today.
Some have expressed concern about the effect on universal service of flash-cut changes in market rules and pricing principles. We have listened -- and responded. With an abundance of caution, we have established an access charge transition of limited duration that will reduce the exposure of incumbent local exchange carriers to the sudden loss of access charge revenues. But we have also established for the long-term the principle that prices for network elements, transport and termination, and collocation must be based on costs -- not hidden subsidies that distort market forces.
We have committed to expeditious completion of the universal service proceeding, where we must make subsidies explicit and both eligibility and funding must become competitively neutral. On a parallel track, we must complete reform of access charges, to eliminate uneconomic incentives that distort investment decisions. A rational economic structure for all services and elements is vital to sustainable competition.
Only when the universal service, access reform, and interconnection rules are all in effect will local telephone subscribers really begin to see the full benefits of marketplace competition: lower prices, new services, and more choices. As market power wanes, the role of government will diminish as well.
Competition will take time to emerge. Expectations are high, but the reality will inevitably lag behind. As the process unfolds over the coming months and years, there are bound to be unforeseen circumstances, unintended consequences, and efforts to game the process. We will remain vigilant, and will reevaluate and refine our rules as necessary to promote competition that is both robust and fair.
Following the mandate of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, this Commission will not shrink from taking the steps necessary to enable the benefits of competition to reach consumers throughout the nation.