Monday, September 17, 2012

FCC Finally Forbears From CableCo/CLEC Restrictions

In another barely buzzer beating decision, the FCC granted forbearance relief to cable operators and competitive local exchange carriers from Section 652(b). I made the case for deregulation in my FSF Perspectives paper, "Section 652 Cross-Ownership Ban Shouldn't Apply to Cablecos and CLECs."

First and foremost, this is a welcome end result. It makes little sense to ban efficiency-enhancing mergers or otherwise burden them with onerous approval processes requiring the sign-off of potentially numerous local franchising areas (LFAs) that typically have no regulatory oversight over local voice services. The FCC's rejection of NCTA's petition for a declaratory ruling that Section 652 doesn't prohibit cableco/CLEC mergers makes sense in light of the plain terms of the statute. So the FCC did the next best thing in forbearing from Section 652(b). The FCC's deregulatory decision stands to improve marketplace competitiveness in advanced telecommunications services and thereby enhance overall consumer welfare.

But this forbearance petition wasn't a hard case. So it shouldn't have taken nearly so long. It certainly shouldn't have required the FCC to grant itself a 90-day extension after it ran out the standard one-year shot clock. Nor should the FCC have needed almost every last day of the extension. Here again, the FCC is continuing in its pattern of delay when it comes to considering regulatory forbearance petitions. Once more, the wisdom of Section 10's forbearance shot clock has been vindicated.

Going forward, regulatory forbearance should be part of any comprehensive or even modest federal communications policy reforms. FSF President Randolph May included reforms to ensure more frequent use of forbearance in his Perspectives paper "A Modest Regulatory Proposal."