CONCURRING STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER HAROLD FURCHTGOTT-ROTH
|Re:||2000 Biennial Regulatory Review; Policy and Rules Concerning the International, Interexchange Marketplace, IB Docket No. 00-202, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (rel. October 18, 2000).|
I applaud the Commission's decision to detariff the vast majority of international telecommunications services. Tariffs are anachronistic regulatory tools that have outlived their usefulness. Eliminating the burdensome requirement that companies file monumental tariff documents and that the FCC reviews them is a step in the right direction. Moreover, detariffing eliminates the filed rate doctrine defense against many consumer claims and moves the telecommunications marketplace closer to a fully competitive traditional open market - with regulation as the exception rather than the rule.
Nonetheless, some aspects of today's Notice trouble me. Fundamentally, the Notice is designed to create symmetry with the 1997 decision to de-tariff domestic long distance service that was recently affirmed by the Court of Appeals.(1) I understand the goal of symmetry, however I cannot support extending antiquated regulatory requirements to international services simply because we imposed them domestically. Instead, I believe the better approach would be to propose to eliminate these obligations internationally and call for comment on changing these requirements domestically. In a fast changing technological environment, our rules need to evolve quickly as well. Waiting until the 2002 biennial review or later - as some have proposed -- to revisit this requirement reflects regulation on "rotary dial" time not "Internet" time.
Two examples illustrate this residual outdated approach. Today's Notice proposes that all non-dominant international interexchange services make information available on the Internet concerning current rates, terms, and conditions for all of their international interexchange services. Although one can dispute the ultimate necessity of such a rule in a fully competitive market, such public disclosure may be sensible as we transition away from the highly regulatory (but information intensive) world of tariffs. The Notice goes from the marginally useful to the completely useless, however, when it also proposes that carriers make such rate, term, and condition information available in "at least one location during regular business hours . . .. "(2) In today's wired world, Internet access is available in the vast majority of communities. Whether the one mandated physical location for the file is Washington, D.C. or Hilo, HI, it will virtually always be easier for all but a random handful of Americans to access the records from the Internet than to travel to the carrier's office. It's not that the requirement is all that burdensome, it simply does not make any sense in today's wired world. Moreover, the mandate creates a regulatory requirement that we are duty bound to enforce. Do we really wish to define and police "regular business hours" or what it means to "make available"?(3)
Second, the Notice also adopts an old school view of what it means to give notice to consumers about rates and terms. Based primarily on concerns about the sufficiency of notice, the NPRM permits tariffs for dial-around services and new customers of international carriers. (4) More specifically, the Notice posits that consumers in these contexts have no way to receive notice of the rates and terms for these services because there is not necessarily an existing relationship between the parties. Placing hundreds of pages long documents in some government building in Washington DC is a far cry from the meaningful notice that can be placed on an Internet website. Yet, in the NPRM, for services where it matters most, the Commission chooses to allow the 1950's style notice of federal tariffs over the 21st Century notice of the Internet. Posting such information on the Internet achieves the same goal - while removing government paperwork and limiting the filed rate doctrine defense for carriers.
In each of these examples, the majority is not willing to entertain these streamlined alternatives because it will create asymmetry with the domestic proceeding. However, I believe that such a deregulatory, pro-consumer tact that takes advantage of current technological access at least deserves public comment. We rarely have a chance to thoughtfully examine the utility of new regulatory requirements in light of rapid technological change - we should not squander that opportunity here. In the end, I would rather have a useful and updated rule, than an outdated, but symmetrical one.
1 MCI Worldcom, Inc. v. FCC, 209 F.3d 760 (D.C. Cir. 2000).