Court Rules Against Bells



A U.S. appeals court today reinforced a federal law that keeps the Bell companies from offering long-distance services until they open their local telecom markets to fuller competition. The court ruling, which came in response to BellSouth's constitutional challenge to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, upheld the FCC's refusal to let the Atlanta-based carrier offer long-distance services in South Carolina.

The Telecom Act requires the Bells to pass a 14-point checklist that includes requirements for connecting local competitors' networks and collocating their equipment. The court ruling stated that the Telecommunications Act was constitutional. It denied BellSouth's request to offer long-distance services because the carrier failed to prove that no "qualifying requests" for interconnection had been made by competitors in its region.

"Being able to enter the long-distance market was the carrot being dangled to get the Bells to open their local markets to competition," says Regina Costa, a director of the Utility Reform Network, a nonprofit utilities group. "The Bells lost twice now. They're going to have to take the steps necessary to comply with this ruling." A similar attempt by Bell company SBC Communications failed earlier this year.

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