FCC Subpoenas Special Access Provider Data as Part of its Price Cap Investigation

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By Lydia Beyoud

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau issued a subpoena Jan. 20 ordering special access service providers to furnish customer data as part of the agency's review of the special access industry, with additional time given to smaller providers.

The Federal Communications Commission subpoenaed the information to lay to rest any uncertainty as to special access providers' obligations to respond to the information request, the agency said in a public notice dated Jan. 16 but issued Jan. 20 with the subpoena.

The data collection request is part of an FCC investigation (WC Docket No. 05-25) into whether the rates for special access service by incumbent local exchange carriers in price cap areas are just and reasonable under the Communications Act of 1934. The agency found in 2012 that the pricing flexibility rules it adopted in 1999 for special access service weren't working as intended, and suspended the rules pending the current data collection and any subsequent action, the FCC noted.

Special access services include communications services for businesses, such as from ATMs or credit cards to banks; and internal communications for schools, libraries and governmental organizations, among other uses.

AT&T Accused, Responds

Some special access providers have complained that AT&T Inc. negotiates with them on an unjust and unreasonable basis. The company has rebutted those claims and stated that the tariff probe is unlawful.

“The data sought are necessary for an analysis of the special access market to better target regulatory relief where warranted, promote competition, and increase consumer welfare through competitive rates and increased services offerings,” the FCC said.

The subpoena addresses privacy concerns raised by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the USTelecom Association regarding the applicability of federal privacy statutes when responding to a data collection with customer information, the FCC said.

“The Bureau appreciates the privacy interests of consumers in their information and will protect reported information from unauthorized disclosure in accordance with the protective order previously issued for this collection,” it said.

The FCC said it would help protect customer information by masking customer names reported in billing data with identification codes, host the data in a secure location subject to certain restrictions and only allow authorized individuals to access the information, among other protections.

Businesses with more than 1,500 employees must provide the information by Jan. 29. Providers with fewer than 1,500 employees must respond by Feb. 27, the FCC said.

Extension Sought

FairPoint Communications, Inc., a mid-size special access service provider headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., asked the FCC for a 90-day filing extension, according to a Jan. 20 FCC filing.

A union walk-out and “a confluence of severe weather events” at the end of 2014 “have made it impossible for the petitioning companies to fully comply with the Special Access Data Collection deadline” on Jan. 29, it said. Six of the company's subsidiaries should be able to meet the deadline, but four price cap companies seek until April 29 to furnish their data.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Text of the public notice is at http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2015/db0116/DA-15-66A1.pdf.

Text of the FairPoint filing is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001012975.