Bells sue FCC over new telecom rules

Big local phone companies say the Federal Communications Commission acted illegally in giving states the power to manage local phone competition.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
Big local phone companies have filed a first round of lawsuits against last week's sweeping overhaul of telecommunication rules, charging that federal regulators violated previous court orders.

In suits they filed separately Thursday, Verizon Communications and the United States Telecom Association (USTA), which represents the former Baby Bell companies, said the Federal Communications Commission acted illegally in giving states the power to manage local phone competition.

As part of its nearly 600-page Triennial Review order, which also laid down new rules for broadband Internet services, the FCC said states could set rules that force the big local phone companies to share portions of their networks with rivals such as AT&T.

"This approach thumbs its nose at the court, which has consistently told the FCC to do its job and set national policy with clear directions and reasonable limitations on the states," USTA Chief Executive Officer Walter McCormick said in a statement. "This ruling really starts to call into question the FCC's ability to be timely, relevant and constructive in today's communications marketplace."

Thursday's lawsuits are just the first round of what many expect to be numerous challenges to the FCC's wide-ranging Triennial Review order, stemming from consumer groups to the largest telephone companies.

The order was a revamp of much of the law that governs competition for the use of telephone lines, which affects voice and Internet services. For voice services, regulators said states could decide which portions of local networks the big phone companies had to lease to rivals to provide competitive service.

That decision was widely viewed as a way to keep in place the existing rules, under which phone companies have to give rivals access to virtually all their components. The former Bells have said this is unfair. A previous court ruling had thrown out the FCC's earlier rules on the issue, prompting regulators to take up the controversial subject as part of the process completed last week.

The FCC also ruled that the big local phone companies could keep exclusive access to new advanced broadband networks such as those that include fiber-optic connections. Consumer groups and Internet service providers have said they are likely to challenge that portion of the ruling.

An FCC representative declined to comment on the lawsuits.

In their lawsuit Thursday, the phone companies' trade association asked the court to relieve them of the obligation to share their networks using the FCC's rules for new customers and to force the commission to keep jurisdiction over the issue. A Verizon representative said the company's lawsuit would be "consistent" with the USTA's suit.