Analysis of FCC Ruling Affirming Interconnection Rights of Competitive Carriers in Rural Areas and Availability of State Commissions for Arbitration and Mediation of Disputes

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Competitive voice service providers will be better positioned to extend the reach of their service to rural areas following release of a May 26, 2011 declaratory ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission). The ruling reaffirms the scope of telecommunications carriers’ statutory interconnection rights under Section 251 of the Communications Act (the Act), and authorizes a procedure for resolving disputes over the implementation of such rights. Specifically, the ruling:

• Confirms that rural incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) are subject to the statutory obligation to interconnect with other carriers under Section 251(a), as well as the specific duties local carriers owe each other under Section 251(b) (such as number porting and reciprocal compensation). These obligations apply even when the rural carriers are exempt, pursuant to Section 251(f), from the more extensive duties imposed on larger incumbent local carriers under Section 251(c) (such as unbundling, collocation, etc.).

• Affirms that rural ILECs must negotiate the terms of an agreement to implement Section 251(a)-(b) duties with requesting carriers.

• Clarifies that disputes over the implementation of Section 251(a) and (b) rights and obligations in interconnection agreements are subject to mediation and/or arbitration before the relevant state public service commissions (PSCs).

• Re-affirms that interconnection rights and obligations under Section 251 extend to providers of wholesale telecommunications services—such as competitive LECs providing connectivity to VoIP providers.

Background

The FCC issued this ruling in the wake of an order of the Maine PUC, which held that certain rural ILECs were not required to negotiate Section 251(a) and (b) interconnection arrangements with requesting carriers. The Maine PSC’s decision rested on its conclusion that the rural ILECs’ exemption from Section 251(c) duties (pursuant to Section 251(f)(1)) effectively eliminated their obligation to comply with Sections 251(a) and (b) as well.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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