Nearly a year after it ordered sweeping deregulation of the business data services (“BDS”) market, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) proposed new rules that would allow certain small rural carriers to move from longstanding rate-of-return regulation to price cap regulation for their BDS offerings. The transition would reduce the regulatory obligations of such carriers, including the need to prepare and file complex cost studies, which the FCC stated would allow carriers to rededicate resources to building and maintaining networks in underserved areas. The FCC also proposed removing pricing restrictions on lower-speed BDS offerings in areas with sufficient competition and sought input on whether pricing restrictions for higher-speed DBS offerings also should be eliminated.
Unlike prior BDS actions, where the issue was hotly contested for years and deregulation passed on a party-line vote, the proposed rulemaking was supported by all five Commissioners, at least for purposes of gathering a record. It’s not clear if this unanimity will hold throughout the proceeding, but the FCC may be on the verge of turning a page in its focus on these services, which are a bedrock for both retail offerings and for competitive carriers extending their networks.