In the world of broadband, at least.
The FCC recently reclassified DSL broadband service, which means phone companies no longer have let Internet service providers mooch off their infrastructure:
- DSL will now be considered an "information service" instead of a "telecommunications service," a distinction that puts DSL in line with the classification of cable modem services. The change in semantics was expected after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Brand X case just five weeks ago. The court's decision upheld the FCC's classification of cable modem service as an information service.
Now the phone companies and the cable companies are exempt from "common carrier" rules that require them to share their infrastructure with Internet service providers.
While the new regulatory framework is good news for the Bell phone companies, they are not entirely off the hook. There will be a 1-year transitional period where phone companies will still be required to provide network access to ISPs. DSL providers will also still be required to comply with the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which requires broadband providers offering voice services to allow law enforcement officials access to their networks for wiretapping.
Phone companies offering DSL service will also still be required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, a federal program that subsidizes phone service in rural areas. During Friday's meeting, commissioners emphasized their commitment to keeping USF funded. As part of this commitment, they have stipulated that phone companies will continue to pay their normal share into the fund for the next nine months. During this period the FCC will review funding alternatives. If an agreement can't be reached, the FCC has the right to extend this period or can also increase the proportion of funding from other sources.