FCC To Examine Telephone Access Fees

Some carriers have complained that AT&T and Verizon charge competitors too much to backhaul their customers' voice and data traffic.
The telephony issue that won't go away -- special access fees -- is slated to be examined by the Federal Communications Commission, according to an FCC notice.

Some firms, including Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and BT have complained that AT&T and Verizon Communications charge competitors too much in access fees to backhaul their customers' voice and data traffic.

Sprint reacted favorably Friday to the FCC notice, which it said addresses "an urgent problem, which costs consumers billions of dollars every year."

In its notice, released Thursday, the FCC framed the issue by noting that some parties -- that is, AT&T and Verizon -- maintain that "current rules are working as intended and contend there is extensive actual and potential competition in the market" while others "assert that there is little or no competition for special access services."

The issue is arcane and complex, but because of the huge amount of money involved in access fees, it is likely to attract attention from a wide range of consumers, lobbyists, and companies.

The issue has been batted around for years and last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sent it back to the FCC. AT&T and Verizon have argued that the FCC hasn't had proper data to determine whether the market is weighed in their favor or not.

"These issues have been pending for years," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski wrote in a letter to Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) recently, "and I appreciate the understandable frustration of many parties regarding the commission's lack of progress in addressing special access issues."

In its notice, the FCC indicated initial comments and replies on special access fees will cover a period of at least two months.

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