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ACA Calls On FCC To Affirm VoIP Interconnection Obligations

The American Cable Association called on the Federal Communications Commission to affirm that providers seeking to exchange managed VoIP traffic can avail themselves of the interconnection rights of the Communications Act because the lack of legal certainty is encouraging large incumbents to engage in deliberate foot-dragging harmful to competition and the IP transition.

"Given that the FCC has yet to confirm that the Communication Act's interconnection requirements apply when a managed VoIP traffic provider seeks interconnection, dominant phone incumbents are effectively avoiding offers from competitive providers to enter into interconnection agreements for exchange of that traffic," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA set forth its positions in reply comments filed Aug. 7 with the FCC in response to the public notice issued by the agency's Technology Transitions Policy Task Force, which sought input on three specific interconnection trials. In its comments, ACA told the FCC that if the FCC withheld bedrock interconnection rights under Section 251 and 252 from a provider that wishes to exchange managed VoIP traffic, large incumbents would use their market power to disadvantage smaller competitors.

ACA also urged the FCC to reject VoIP interconnection trials, saying technical demonstrations were unnecessary and trials do not address the root of the problem -- that is, the business incentives of AT&T, Verizon and other large incumbent local telephone companies to refuse to enter into reasonable interconnection agreements with providers who wish to exchange managed VoIP traffic, including ACA Members.

ACA said the idea that good faith negotiation would solve key problems was flawed because it assumed incumbents would agree to offer reasonable prices, terms, and conditions that would exist in a fully competitive market.  ACA added that T-Mobile's suggestion that a better definition about what constitutes good faith was a non-starter because small operators have seen that those protections are in reality meaningless within the context of retransmission consent negotiations with TV station owners.

"Good faith does not compel either party to resolve differences and enter into an agreement," Polka said. "Rather, a requirement to enter into good-faith negotiations merely may help negotiations begin."

Over many years and many proceedings, the FCC has collected substantial evidence demonstrating that relying solely on the market to produce interconnection agreements for the exchange of managed VoIP traffic has not worked, ACA said.  There's no reason to believe that VoIP traffic will be exchanged just because the parties sit down and talk without having the legal backstop of the law's interconnection rules, ACA said.

The regulatory backstop provided by Sections 251 and 252 has been in effect for Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) traffic for over 15 years and thus is familiar to incumbent and competitive providers, as well as regulators.  In ACA's view, by having this backstop, parties understand the need to enter into reasonable agreements expeditiously. It is thus well-suited to act as an efficient oversight mechanism when required to settle managed VoIP interconnection disputes.

"The FCC should accordingly be skeptical of alarmist claims that these provisions will result in overly intrusive regulatory intervention," Polka said. 

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