A broad coalition of telecommunications carriers is asking the FCC to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to determine the proper treatment of MPLS-based services for regulatory and Universal Service purposes. The coalition, which includes Verizon, XO, Level 3, Qwest and four other carriers, are providers of services based on the Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology. The carriers recently met with advisors to the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and urged the FCC to clarify prospectively the proper treatment of services based on this technology.
MPLS is a technology that enables Internet protocol networks to make routing decisions based on user-assigned labels. MPLS is employed in many advanced data networks in order to provide users with highly-flexible, secure "virtual" networks. Unfortunately, several controversies have developed over whether an MPLS-based service is a regulated "telecommunications service" or an unregulated "information service."
The coalition carriers acknowledge this issue, and urge the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to address the proper treatment going forward:
we explained that as a class of services, many MPLS-enabled services in fact have the characteristics of information services and are treated as such. Regardless, we said that to settle uncertainty the Commission should address the treatment of MPLS-enabled services in either its expected upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding universal service contributions or a different rulemaking proceeding in order to establish clear rules and expectations should the Commission decide to seek contributions on services based on MPLS. We suggested it would be appropriate for the Commission to address MPLS-enabled services going forward in order to ensure consistent prospective treatment throughout the industry.
This is not the first MPLS-related request to be submitted to the FCC. The Commission has a USF appeal that presents the issue (available in parts here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) and has a Petition for Clarification regarding statements it made in its FCC Form 499-A (for USF revenue reporting).
FULL DISCLOSURE: Kelley Drye represents XO Communications Services in its MPLS-related USF appeal.