SBC Comment Period Ends Wednesday

June 27, 2003
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Federal communications regulators have decided to accelerate the public comment period in SBC Communications Inc.’s latest bid to enter the long-distance telephone market in Michigan.

The Federal Communications Commission, since SBC’s application “follows closely” the company’s previous bid that was withdrawn in April, shaved four days from the regular comment period.

Because SBC’s new long-distance application “relies largely on the same evidence that supported its previous application, we find it appropriate to adopt an expedited comment schedule,” the FCC stated in a formal public notice issued June 19 on the SBC application.

Public comments are due to the FCC by July 2. The U.S. Justice Department, which previously declined to back SBC’s long-distance bid, will weigh in on the new filing by July 16.

Under a 90-day review process, the FCC must act on the request from SBC by Sept. 17.

SBC had sought and subsequently welcomed the expedited public comment period.

“The sooner we get approval the sooner the consumers of Michigan can enjoy more choice, greater value and increased competition in Michigan,” SBC Communications President William Daley said.

The FCC review of SBC’s long-distance bid will surely draw many of the same comments as previous efforts from competitors in the local telephone market who lease space on SBC’s network and say the company has yet to live up to service requirements. They claim wholesale billing errors between SBC and the competitive local exchange carriers persist and that granting SBC approval to offer long-distance service will negate any incentive for the company to fix the problem and allow it to re-monopolize phone service in Michigan.

“In case after case, SBC says it has made or proposed fixes to systems, but has not yet been able to adequately test them in real-world situations. SBC should withdraw this proposal until it can actually do what it says it wants to do — provide competitors with fair access to Michigan’s last mile of lines and switches,” said Greg Boyd, executive director of Michigan Alliance for Competitive Telecommunications, a coalition of competitors that lease space on SBC’s network and sell local phone service to residential and business customers.

SBC contends that problems with wholesale billing errors that led to the withdrawal of the previous application have since been corrected. The FCC filing, Daley said, “left no room for second-guessing.”

“When you consider the number of billing functions we perform for the number of different competitors in Michigan, we do an incredible job managing an extremely complex system and process,” he said.

That’s a contention that local competitors hotly dispute. They point to the millions in fines that SBC has paid out in Michigan and other states for failing to meet wholesale performance measures.

“We commend SBC for continuing to improve its operating systems, but this application is again premature,” Boyd said.

FCC approval would enable SBC to bundle long distance and local telephone services together into a single rate package and increase competition for long distance at a time when competition for local service is emerging.

“Clearly our customers are clamoring for more competition because they understand that they are the ones that will benefit,” SBC Michigan President Gail Torreano said in a recent interview with the Business Journal.           

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