November 17, 2005 2:03 PM PST

FCC commissioner Abernathy resigns

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Kathleen Abernathy, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, sent a resignation letter to President Bush saying she will leave her post on Dec. 9, the FCC announced Thursday.

So far, no one has been nominated to replace Abernathy, who would have had to leave the FCC at the end of this legislative session anyway (her term expired last year, but she could stay on until December, according to federal rules).

Abernathy
Credit: FCC
Kathleen Abernathy

Earlier this month, Bush said he planned to nominate Democrat Michael Copps to a second term on the commission. He also named Deborah Tate, a Republican regulatory commissioner from Tennessee, to fill the seat left vacant when Kevin Martin was appointed chairman. Martin replaced Michael Powell, another Republican, who had served as chairman.

Unless Tate is confirmed in the next few weeks, the December meeting will only have three out of the five commissioner seats filled.

Abernathy served on the FCC during an important period in the industry. Critics of the agency say the commission has given in too much to the wishes of large telecommunications companies like Bell operators. One such example, they say, is the reclassification of DSL services, which put them on more equal footing with cable modem services. The new rule allows phone companies to deny access to third parties that want to resell DSL service. In her final statement, Abernathy defended this decision.

"Implicit in the commission's competition-oriented approach to telecommunications regulation is a recognition of the fact that competition is a journey," she said in a statement. "It is a journey in which there are winners and losers, change and upheaval, and no clear destination where all things are settled and all competitors are satisfied. Our effort to create greater regulatory symmetry between cable and telephone company providers of advanced high-speed broadband networks is but one example of that process."

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Reclassifying DSL improves competition?
Either the commissioner really believes infrastructure based competition (not simply duopoly) is possible in the local loop or else her opinion makes no sense. Competition in the local loop can come thorugh wireline, or wireless infrastructure. Is it ever really going to make sense for there to be 5-10 pairs of wires going to every house in the US (hundreds of millions of houses...). Would it make sense for 5 roads to be built passing each house? Unlikely. So that leaves wirless (WIMAX, etc). Yet all wireless local loop ventures over the past 20 years have essentially been failures, or remained niche solutions... It would be nice if the FCC would state where exactly they see competition coming from instead of hiding behind platitudes like "competition is a journey" and we did this for the sake of "symmetry".

To give an analogy: the Bells are essentially in the position of owning the road network and insisting that only their own bus company can use the road - no competing bus companies will be alowed on the roads. The FCC essentially now says that this is reasonable and competing bus companies should build their own new roads, or invest R&D into teleportation devices and bypass the roads...
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Road to nowhere
"Symmetry" is critical in the broadband access debate; it's not a side issue. Why should the FCC favor Cable ISP's with no regulation while DSL gets the same heavy regulation as the ex-monopolistic Bell services? It gave cable an advantage over DSL for no reason other than the weird categorization of DSL as a telecommunications serv. versus an informational one. If one broadband technology is chosen by customers, then it should be chosen for a reason other than odd definitional choices by the FCC.

If I want broadband at home, I have at least 5 reasonable options that I can think of without any research: Sprint fixed point wireless, SBC DSL, SpeakEasy DSL, Cable, and Dish Network. The one I pick shouldn't be based on benefits due to FCC definitions. I want to pick the cheapest, most efficient technology. That's the type of competition FCC wants too, and by leveling the field it makes it possible. Im using the Sprint Network since it gives me the most reliable and fastest service for less than what Comcast charges.

As far as competition on the local loop, we have the benefit of the time period when DSL was both a telecommunications service and even when it was a UNE, which it was for a couple of years. This all took place during the height of the telecommunications boom, yet there still weren't that many competing companies who wanted to offer just DSL. Local phone service is a natural monopoly in my eyes; if it weren't then there would have been hundreds of companies all clamoring for my home phone. As it stands, in Chicago I have an option of about 3 or 4 local phone providers, and they all charge about the same as SBC.

Also, I don't think your analogy goes very far. In a given city, how many competitive bus companies are there? You have the city transit service and that's it. Some things are a monopoly and pretending that they're creates waste. Additionally, the competing companies can use the roads (which the Bell companies built by the way), but they cant use just the DSL portion of the road. If they want to offer a complete service they can access to the entire loop at confiscatory rates  meaning for less than what they cost the phone company since the entire loop is still a UNE.

FCC document on competition: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/highspeedinternet.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/highspeedinternet.html</a>
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
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