FCC Adopts Copper Retirement Rules, Seeks Comments on 214 Process

During its August 6 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted new rules requiring all carriers to notify customers when they plan to retire their copper networks. The Order addresses both replacement of older network technologies with new ones and migration of services that are provided over those technologies.

Rules Concerning the Technology Transition
From a technology perspective, the FCC has focused on the migration from copper to fiber technologies. The Order defines copper retirement as both actual retirement and functional retirement:

  • removal or disabling of copper loops, subloops, or the feeder portion of such loops or subloops;
  • replacement of such loops with fiber-to-the-home loops or fiber-to-the-curb loops; or
  • failure to maintain copper loops, subloops, or the feeder portion of such loops or subloops that is the functional equivalent of removal or disabling.

Carriers will be required to directly notify retail customers of plans to retire copper networks at least three months in advance, except when the copper facilities are no longer used to provide service in the area or the copper retirement is to resolve service issues raised by the customer. The Order also increases the notification interval to interconnecting carriers from three months to at least six months, but eliminates the carriers’ ability to object to the network change. The new rules also include direction on the notice content and allow customers and competing carriers to comment on the retirement.

The Order also requires ILECs that have received authority to discontinue or impair TDM services and that offer IP services to provide competing carriers access to wholesale services at rates and terms reasonably comparable to those provided prior to the discontinuance. This is an interim measure until the FCC determines if such special access services are provided under just and reasonable terms.

The FCC has declined to provide a general waiver of these requirements to rural ILECs. However, the new rules fall in the section governing Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers, from which most rural LECs have a rural exemption. At this point, it is unclear if the FCC intends to apply the new rules to companies with a rural exemption.

Service Changes
In addition, carriers retain the flexibility to retire their copper networks without prior Commission approval as long as no service is discontinued, reduced or impaired. If there is a change in the service provided to customers, a Section 214 notice and FCC approval will be required. All telecommunications carriers, including those with a rural exemption, are required to provide 214 notifications.

Finally, the Order temporarily requires incumbents to offer replacement services to competitive providers at rates, terms and conditions that are reasonably comparable to those of the legacy services. This requirement may change upon completion of the FCC’s special access proceeding which is examining these issues in more detail.

Additional Changes Ahead
The FCC also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) seeking comment on the criteria to be used to evaluate and compare replacement and legacy services and to clarify the standards used during the Section 214 process. The items open for comment include:

  • Support for 911 services and call centers
  • Network capacity and reliability
  • Quality of both voice service and Internet access
  • Interoperability with devices and services, such as alarm services and medical monitoring
  • Access for people with disabilities, including compatibility with assistive technologies
  • Network security in any IP-supported network that is comparable to the legacy network
  • Coverage throughout the service area, either by the substitute network or via service from other provider
  • Plan for outreach to affected consumers

Comments on the FNPRM are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 30 days later.

The Order’s effective date is pending Federal Register publication and Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) approval. We anticipate that the FCC will clarify whether or not companies with a rural exemption will be subject to the new notification rules prior to the rules becoming effective.

In the interim, feel free to contact Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590 with any questions.

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