Proposal to FCC could threaten small internet providers | SierraSun.com

Proposal to FCC could threaten small internet providers

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

Internet service providers in Truckee could take a hit if the Federal Communications Commission decides to repeal a rule that grants competing companies access to their infrastructure.

This provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act required major phone companies to lease their copper wire infrastructure, which can provide phone and internet service through DSL, to competitors at a regulated price.

In May, U.S. Telecom, the trade association that represents AT&T and Verizon and other large corporations, filed a petition with the FCC to repeal the requirement of the 1996 Act that aimed at promoting competition. The petition argues that the rule is "intrusive" and outdated.

"AT&T owns the phone lines in people's homes," said Devin Koch, owner of Exwire, an internet service provider in Truckee. "No one wants to go out to put new phone lines in."

While Exwire's customer base for DSL is small, Koch said those customers would likely be affected. When enacted, the rule allowed Sonic, a private Santa Rosa internet service provider, to rent infrastructure from AT&T and grow to serve 125 California communities.

"They created a platform and bought rights to be in AT&T wire centers. Then they created a platform for smaller local ISPs," said Koch whose company rents infrastructure directly from Sonic. "We sell Sonic's DSL, but it's all riding on AT&T's structure."

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Koch said that if the rule is repealed it could limit smaller companies from competing with larger corporation such as Verizon or AT&T. However, larger companies are less likely to provide quality service in rural areas.

"AT&T has reduced the area in which they're willing to sell services," said Koch, who provides service to homes in Truckee where AT&T internet service is not offered.

In addition to the potential repeal, the FCC voted last November to begin scaling back a program designed to help low-income Americans access to the internet. The federal Lifeline Program, established in 1985 to help expand phone service, gives a discount on internet service to those living in low income areas. The program which expanded to include broadband services in 2016 gave participating households a $9.25 credit per month to help purchase internet service. The new proposal could make it more difficult for households to attain Lifeline's services.

A second proposal could prevent resellers who don't run their own infrastructure, such as Sonic, from providing internet service through the Lifeline program. The FCC said that would mean some in the program would not be able to stay with their current providers. The commission is still in consideration of this proposal and has not yet acted on repealing provision of the 1996 Act.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at hjones@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2652.