I have some preliminary thoughts on additional transparency at the Federal Communications Commission. During my heyday at the Florida Public Service Commission, no major rule or other policy change was implemented without an evidentiary hearing. This type of openness provided both investors and consumers the ability to weigh in on an issue and helped ensure that the PSC met its duty to balance the interests of consumers and investors alike.
Not only did the PSC balance these interests by being open and transparent in their deliberations, but they also established a clearer record of precedent. This is the approach that the FCC needs to apply on a going forward basis in its decisions. Recent findings in the Commission’s special access ruling and the decision on the spectrum transaction between Verizon and SpectrumCo LLC provide examples on how a lack of an evidentiary hearing can send mixed signals about promotion of competition and free markets.
For example, the FCC concluded that it should suspend its special access rules that granted pricing flexibility to carriers facing competition. The FCC believes now that there is evidence the rules are not reflecting competition for special access.
However, in its review of the Verizon-SpectrumCo LLC license acquisition, the FCC concluded that the cable companies do not have the ability, at least in the near term, to cause anti-competitive harm in broadband services. In addition, a significant increase in backhaul rates is unlikely to impact subscribers.
So in special access, an important component of backhaul, the FCC doesn’t know whether there is competition, but in a spectrum docket, the FCC concludes in effect that there will be no anti competitive or anti consumer impact resulting from an increase in backhaul rates.
There has to be some reconciliation of the special access market with pricing impacts in the backhaul market and only a precedent setting evidentiary hearing can do this.