Federal regulators approved new rules Oct. 14 aimed at making high-speed internet access available to more Americans. Critics contended the action will hinder competition in broadband services and keep prices high.
The proposal lets the major regional phone companies build fiber-optic networks to within 500 feet of a customer’s home without requiring the companies to share their networks with competitors.
Currently, the former Baby Bell companies do not have to lease their networks for fiber that is installed directly to the home. The new rule extends that regulation to within 500 feet of a residence.
BellSouth requested the change so it could build networks to just outside a customer’s home and reach more homes at once, rather than having to lay down fiber to each household. In a statement, the company said the decision would bring broadband service to more consumers, more quickly.
Three members of the Federal Communications Commission approved the plan in whole, while a fourth agreed to some parts and objected to others. Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, voted against the rules.
Copps said loosening the rules for the major phone companies keeps smaller players from getting into the market. The agency is “returning to the failed and noncompetitive policies of the past,” he said.
AT&T vice president for law and director of government affairs, Len Cali, said the FCC’s order was unclear and that “the inevitable grab by the Bells to expand their monopoly does not bode well for telecom users, industry investment, or the economy as a whole.”
Separately, the commission voted to set ground rules for a different type of high-speed internet access–broadband over power lines, known as BPL.
This technology is still in its infancy, with only a handful of companies offering broadband over electric power lines to fewer than 5,000 customers nationwide. The transmissions, however, can cause interference with ham radio operators, who have complained loudly to the FCC.
The agency said its rules would limit interference by BPL providers by using devices that would skip frequencies the amateur radio operators use. But the American Radio Relay League, an organization of ham radio operators, said it is concerned there will still be interference problems despite the FCC rules.