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Intercarrier Compensation

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AGENCY:

Federal Communications Commission.

ACTION:

Final rule.

SUMMARY:

In this document, the Federal Communication Commission (Commission) denies a petition for declaratory ruling filed by T-Mobile USA, Inc., Western Wireless Corporation, Nextel Communications and Nextel Partners, which asked the Commission to find that wireless termination tariffs are not a proper mechanism for establishing reciprocal compensation arrangements for the transport and termination of traffic. Because negotiated agreements between carriers are more consistent with the pro-competitive process and policies reflected in the 1996 Act than unilaterally imposed tariffs, however, the Commission also amends its rules to prohibit the use of tariffs in the future to impose compensation obligations with respect to non-access Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) traffic. Additionally, to ensure that incumbent local exchange carriers (LECs) are able to obtain a negotiated agreement, the Commission adds new rules to clarify that an incumbent local exchange carrier (LEC) may request interconnection from a CMRS provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures set forth in section 252 of the Communications Act and that during the period of negotiation and arbitration, the parties will be entitled to compensation in accordance with the interim rate provisions set forth in § 51.715 of the Commission's rules, 47 CFR 51.715. These rules will ensure that both incumbent and competitive carriers can obtain compensation terms consistent with the Act's standards through negotiated or arbitrated agreements.

DATES:

Effective April 29, 2005.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Victoria Goldberg, Pricing Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, 202-418-7353, or Peter Trachtenberg, Spectrum and Competition Policy Division, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, 202-418-7369.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This is a summary of the Commission's Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order in CC Docket 01-92, adopted February 17, 2005, and released February 24, 2005. The full text of this document may be purchased from the Commission's duplicating contractor, Best Copy and Printing, Inc., Portals II, 445 12th Street, SW., Room CY-B402, Washington, DC 20554, telephone 1-800-378-3160. It is also available on the Commission's Web site at http://www.fcc.gov.

Synopsis of the Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order

Background: On September 6, 2002, T-Mobile USA, Inc., Western Wireless Corporation, Nextel Communications and Nextel Partners jointly filed a petition for declaratory ruling asking the Commission to affirm that wireless termination tariffs are inconsistent with federal law governing reciprocal compensation arrangements for the transport and termination of traffic and, therefore, not a proper mechanism for establishing such arrangements. In a public notice published in the Federal Register, 67 FR 64120-01, October 17, 2002, the Commission sought comment on the issues raised in the T-Mobile Petition. Further, the Commission determined that the T-Mobile Petition raised issues under consideration in an ongoing rulemaking proceeding, CC Docket 01-92, Developing a Unified Intercarrier Compensation Regime. In this proceeding, the Commission had released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Intercarrier Compensation NPRM), 66 FR 28410, May 23, 2001, which initiated a comprehensive review of interconnection compensation issues and raised questions concerning, among other things, the appropriate regulatory framework to govern interconnection, including compensation arrangements, between LECs and CMRS providers. The Commission therefore incorporated the T-Mobile Petition and responsive comments into the rulemaking record.

Discussion: Because the Act and the existing rules do not preclude tariffed compensation arrangements, and because wireless termination tariffs that apply only in the absence of an interconnection agreement are not inconsistent with the compensation standards of sections 251 and 252 of the Act or of § 20.11 of the Commission's rules, and because the tariffs do not prevent a competitive carrier from obtaining a compensation agreement through the negotiation and arbitration procedures of section 252, we find that incumbent LECs were not prohibited under federal law from filing such tariffs. Going forward, however, we amend our rules to make clear our preference for contractual arrangements by prohibiting LECs from imposing compensation obligations for non-access CMRS traffic pursuant to tariff. In addition, we amend our rules to clarify that an incumbent LEC may request interconnection from a CMRS provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures set forth in section 252 of the Act.

We find that negotiated agreements between carriers are more consistent with the pro-competitive process and policies reflected in the 1996 Act. Accordingly, we amend § 20.11 of the Commission's rules to prohibit LECs from imposing compensation obligations for non-access traffic pursuant to tariff. Therefore, any existing wireless termination tariffs shall no longer apply upon the effective date of these amendments to our rules. After that date, in the absence of a request for an interconnection agreement, no compensation will be owed for termination of non-access traffic. We take this action pursuant to our plenary authority under sections 201 and 332 of the Act.

In light of our decision to prohibit the use of tariffs to impose termination charges on non-access traffic, we find it necessary to ensure that LECs have the ability to compel negotiations and arbitrations, as CMRS providers may do today. Accordingly, we amend § 20.11 Start Printed Page 16142of our rules to clarify that an incumbent LEC may request interconnection from a CMRS provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures set forth in section 252 of the Act. A CMRS provider receiving such a request must negotiate in good faith and must, if requested, submit to arbitration by the state commission. In recognition that the establishment of interconnection arrangements may take more than 160 days, we also establish interim compensation requirements under § 20.11 of the Commission's rules consistent with those already provided in § 51.715 of the Commission's rules.

Procedural Matters

Paperwork Reduction Act Analysis

This document does not contain proposed information collection(s) subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), Pub. L. 104-13. In addition, therefore, it does not contain any new or modified “information collection burden for small business concerns with fewer than 25 employees,” pursuant to the Small Business Paperwork Relief Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107-198, see 44 U.S.C. 3506(c)(4).

Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

As required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, as amended (RFA), an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was incorporated in the Intercarrier Compensation NPRM in CC Docket No. 01-92. The Commission sought written public comment on the proposals in the Intercarrier Compensation NPRM, including comment on the issues raised in the IRFA. Relevant comments received are discussed below. This present Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) conforms to the RFA. To the extent that any statement in this FRFA is perceived as creating ambiguity with respect to Commission rules or statements made in the sections of the order preceding the FRFA, the rules and statements set forth in those preceding sections are controlling.

A. Need for, and Objectives of, the Rules

In the Intercarrier Compensation NPRM, the Commission acknowledged a number of problems with the current intercarrier compensation regimes (access charges and reciprocal compensation) and discussed a number of areas where a new approach might be adopted. Among other issues, the Commission asked commenters to address the appropriate regulatory framework governing interconnection, including compensation arrangements, between LECs and CMRS providers. Subsequently, the Commission received a petition for declaratory ruling filed by CMRS providers (T-Mobile Petition) asking the Commission to find that state wireless termination tariffs are not the proper mechanism for establishing reciprocal compensation arrangements between incumbent LECs and CMRS providers. The T-Mobile Petition was incorporated into the Commission's intercarrier compensation rulemaking proceeding, along with the comments, replies, and ex partes filed in response to the petition.

In this Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order (Order), the Commission denies the T-Mobile Petition because neither the Act nor the existing rules preclude an incumbent LEC's use of tariffed compensation arrangements in the absence of an interconnection agreement or a competitive carrier's request to enter into one. On a prospective basis, however, the Commission amends its rules to prohibit the use of tariffs to impose compensation obligations with respect to non-access CMRS traffic and to clarify that an incumbent LEC may request interconnection from a CMRS provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures set forth in section 252 of the Act, and that during the period of negotiation and arbitration, the parties will be entitled to compensation in accordance with the interim rate provisions set forth in § 51.715 of the Commission's rules. By clarifying these interconnection and compensation obligations, the Commission will resolve a significant carrier dispute pending in the marketplace that has provoked a substantial and increasing amount of litigation, and will facilitate the exchange of traffic between wireline LECs and CMRS providers and encourage the establishment of interconnection and compensation terms through the negotiation and arbitration processes contemplated by the 1996 Act.

B. Summary of Significant Issues Raised by Public Comments in Response to the IRFA

In the IRFA, the Commission noted the numerous problems that had developed under the existing rules governing intercarrier compensation, and it sought comment on whether proposed new approaches would encourage efficient use of, and investment in the telecommunications network, and whether the transition would be administratively feasible. In response to the Intercarrier Compensation NPRM, the Commission received 75 comments, 62 replies, and numerous ex parte submissions. In addition, a number of additional comments, replies, and ex partes were submitted in this proceeding in connection with the T-Mobile petition. Those comments expressly addressed to the IRFA raised concerns regarding the more comprehensive reform proposals discussed in the Intercarrier Compensation NPRM rather than the more narrow LEC-CMRS issues addressed in this Order.

In connection with the issues we address here, several parties commenting on the T-Mobile Petition expressed concern that striking down tariffs would impose a burden on rural incumbent LECs. They argued that LECs lacked the ability under the law to obtain a compensation agreement with CMRS providers without the inducement to negotiate provided by tariffs, and further asserted that small carriers would be adversely impacted by any obligation to terminate CMRS traffic without compensation. Conversely, some carriers expressed a concern that the negotiation and arbitration process was an inefficient method of establishing a compensation arrangement between two carriers where the traffic volume between them was small, and argued that non-negotiated arrangements were therefore a better method of imposing compensation obligations. We address these issues in section E of the FRFA.

C. Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which the Proposed Rules Will Apply

The RFA directs agencies to provide a description of, and, where feasible, an estimate of the number of small entities that may be affected by rules adopted herein. The RFA generally defines the term “small entity” as having the same meaning as the terms “small business,” “small organization,” and “small governmental jurisdiction.” In addition, the term “small business” has the same meaning as the term “small business concern” under the Small Business Act. A “small business concern” is one that: (1) Is independently owned and operated; (2) is not dominant in its field of operation; and (3) satisfies any additional criteria established by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

In this section, we further describe and estimate the number of small entity licensees and regulatees that may also be indirectly affected by rules adopted pursuant to this Order. The most reliable source of information regarding the total numbers of certain common carrier and related providers Start Printed Page 16143nationwide, as well as the number of commercial wireless entities, appears to be the data that the Commission publishes in its Trends in Telephone Service report. The SBA has developed small business size standards for wireline and wireless small businesses within the three commercial census categories of Wired Telecommunications Carriers, Paging, and Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications. Under these categories, a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. Below, using the above size standards and others, we discuss the total estimated numbers of small businesses that might be affected by our actions.

We have included small incumbent LECs in this present RFA analysis. As noted above, a “small business” under the RFA is one that, inter alia, meets the pertinent small business size standard (e.g., a telephone communications business having 1,500 or fewer employees), and “is not dominant in its field of operation.” The SBA's Office of Advocacy contends that, for RFA purposes, small incumbent LECs are not dominant in their field of operation because any such dominance is not “national” in scope. We have therefore included small incumbent LECs in this RFA analysis, although we emphasize that this RFA action has no effect on Commission analyses and determinations in other, non-RFA contexts.

Wired Telecommunications Carriers. The SBA has developed a small business size standard for Wired Telecommunications Carriers, which consists of all such companies having 1,500 or fewer employees. According to Census Bureau data for 1997, there were 2,225 firms in this category, total, that operated for the entire year. Of this total, 2,201 firms had employment of 999 or fewer employees, and an additional 24 firms had employment of 1,000 employees or more. Thus, under this size standard, the majority of firms can be considered small.

Local Exchange Carriers. Neither the Commission nor the SBA has developed a size standard for small businesses specifically applicable to local exchange services. The closest applicable size standard under SBA rules is for Wired Telecommunications Carriers. Under that size standard, such a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. According to Commission data, 1,310 carriers reported that they were incumbent local exchange service providers. Of these 1,310 carriers, an estimated 1,025 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 285 have more than 1,500 employees. In addition, according to Commission data, 563 companies reported that they were engaged in the provision of either competitive access provider services or competitive local exchange carrier services. Of these 563 companies, an estimated 472 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 91 have more than 1,500 employees. In addition, 37 carriers reported that they were “Other Local Exchange Carriers.” Of the 37 “Other Local Exchange Carriers,” an estimated 36 have 1,500 or fewer employees and one has more than 1,500 employees. Consequently, the Commission estimates that most providers of local exchange service, competitive local exchange service, competitive access providers, and “Other Local Exchange Carriers” are small entities that may be affected by the rules and policies adopted herein.

Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (LECs). We have included small incumbent local exchange carriers in this present RFA analysis. As noted above, a “small business” under the RFA is one that, inter alia, meets the pertinent small business size standard (e.g., a telephone communications business having 1,500 or fewer employees), and “is not dominant in its field of operations.” The SBA's Office of Advocacy contends that, for RFA purposes, small incumbent local exchange carriers are not dominant in their field of operation because any such dominance is not “national” in scope. We therefore include small incumbent local exchange carriers in this RFA analysis, although we emphasize that this RFA action has no effect on Commission analyses and determinations in other, non-RFA contexts.

Neither the Commission nor the SBA has developed a size standard for small businesses specifically applicable to incumbent local exchange services. The closest applicable size standard under SBA rules is for Wired Telecommunications Carriers. Under that size standard, such a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. According to Commission data, 1,337 carriers reported that they were engaged in the provision of local exchange services. Of these 1,337 carriers, an estimated 1,032 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 305 have more than 1,500 employees. Consequently, the Commission estimates that most providers of incumbent local exchange service are small businesses that may be affected by the rules and policies adopted herein.

Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs), Competitive Access Providers (CAPs), and “Other Local Exchange Carriers.” Neither the Commission nor the SBA has developed a size standard for small businesses specifically applicable to providers of competitive exchange services or to competitive access providers or to “Other Local Exchange Carriers,” all of which are discrete categories under which TRS data are collected. The closest applicable size standard under SBA rules is for Wired Telecommunications Carriers. Under that size standard, such a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. According to Commission data, 609 companies reported that they were engaged in the provision of either competitive access provider services or competitive local exchange carrier services. Of these 609 companies, an estimated 458 have 1,500 or fewer employees and 151 have more than 1,500 employees. In addition, 35 carriers reported that they were “Other Local Service Providers.” Of the 35 “Other Local Service Providers,” an estimated 34 have 1,500 or fewer employees and one has more than 1,500 employees. Consequently, the Commission estimates that most providers of competitive local exchange service, competitive access providers, and “Other Local Exchange Carriers” are small entities that may be affected by the rules and policies adopted herein.

Wireless Service Providers. The SBA has developed a small business size standard for wireless firms within the two broad economic census categories of “Paging” and “Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications.” Under both SBA categories, a wireless business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. For the census category of Paging, Census Bureau data for 1997 show that there were 1,320 firms in this category, total, that operated for the entire year. Of this total, 1,303 firms had employment of 999 or fewer employees, and an additional 17 firms had employment of 1,000 employees or more. Thus, under this category and associated small business size standard, the great majority of firms can be considered small. For the census category Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications, Census Bureau data for 1997 show that there were 977 firms in this category, total, that operated for the entire year. Of this total, 965 firms had employment of 999 or fewer employees, and an additional 12 firms had employment of 1,000 employees or more. Thus, under this second category and size standard, the great majority of firms can, again, be considered small.

Wireless Telephony. Wireless telephony includes cellular, personal communications services, and Start Printed Page 16144specialized mobile radio telephony carriers. The SBA has developed a small business size standard for “Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications” services. Under that SBA small business size standard, a business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. According to the most recent Trends in Telephone Service data, 447 carriers reported that they were engaged in the provision of wireless telephony. We have estimated that 245 of these are small under the SBA small business size standard.

Cellular Licensees. The SBA has developed a small business size standard for wireless firms within the broad economic census category “Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications.” Under this SBA category, a wireless business is small if it has 1,500 or fewer employees. For the census category Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications firms, Census Bureau data for 1997 show that there were 977 firms in this category, total, that operated for the entire year. Of this total, 965 firms had employment of 999 or fewer employees, and an additional 12 firms had employment of 1,000 employees or more. Thus, under this category and size standard, the great majority of firms can be considered small. According to the most recent Trends in Telephone Service data, 447 carriers reported that they were engaged in the provision of cellular service, personal communications service, or specialized mobile radio telephony services, which are placed together in the data. We have estimated that 245 of these are small, under the SBA small business size standard.

D. Description of Projected Reporting, Record Keeping and Other Compliance Requirements for Small Entities

In this Order, the Commission adopts new rules that prohibit incumbent LECs from imposing non-access compensation obligations pursuant to tariff, and permit LECs to compel interconnection and arbitration with CMRS providers. Under the new rules, CMRS providers and LECs, including small entities, must engage in interconnection agreement negotiations and, if requested, arbitrations in order to impose compensation obligations for non-access traffic. The record suggests that many incumbent LECs and CMRS providers, including many small and rural carriers, already participate in interconnection negotiations and the state arbitration process under the current rules. For these carriers, our new rules will not result in any additional compliance requirements. For LECs that have imposed compensation obligations for non-access traffic pursuant to state tariffs, however, the amended rules require that these LECs, including small entities, participate in interconnection negotiations and, if requested, the state arbitration process in order to impose compensation obligations. Conversely, the new rules obligate CMRS providers, including small entities, to participate in a negotiation and arbitration process upon a request by incumbent LECs.

E. Steps Taken To Minimize Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities, and Significant Alternatives Considered

The RFA requires an agency to describe any significant alternatives that it has considered in developing its approach, which may include the following four alternatives (among others): “(1) The establishment of differing compliance or reporting requirements or timetables that take into account the resources available to small entities; (2) the clarification, consolidation, or simplification of compliance or reporting requirements under the rule for small entities; (3) the use of performance rather than design standards; and (4) an exemption from coverage of the rule, or any part thereof, for small entities.”

The Commission denies a petition for declaratory ruling filed by CMRS providers asking the Commission to find that state wireless termination tariffs are not the proper mechanism for establishing reciprocal compensation arrangements between LECs and CMRS providers. The Commission considered and rejected a finding that state wireless termination tariffs are not the proper mechanism for establishing reciprocal compensation arrangements between LECs and CMRS providers because the current rules do not explicitly preclude such arrangements and these tariffs ensure compensation where the rights of incumbent LECs to compel negotiations with CMRS providers are unclear. On a prospective basis, however, the Commission amends its rule to prohibit the use of tariffs to impose compensation obligations with respect to non-access CMRS traffic and to clarify that an incumbent LEC may request interconnection from a CMRS provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures set forth in section 252 of the Act.

As a general matter, our actions in this Order should benefit all interconnected LECs and CMRS providers, including small entities, by facilitating the exchange of traffic and providing greater regulatory certainty and reduced litigation costs. Further, we directly address the concern of small incumbent LECs that they would be unable to obtain a compensation arrangement without tariffs by providing them with a new right to initiate a section 252 process through which they can obtain a reciprocal compensation arrangement with any CMRS provider.

The Commission considered and rejected the possibility of permitting wireless termination tariffs on a prospective basis. Although establishing contractual arrangements may impose burdens on CMRS providers and LECs, including some small entities, that do not have these arrangements in place, we find that our approach in the Order best balances the needs of incumbent LECs to obtain terminating compensation for wireless traffic and the pro-competitive process and policies reflected in the 1996 Act. We also note that, during this proceeding, both CMRS providers and rural incumbent LECs have repeatedly emphasized their willingness to engage in a negotiation and arbitration process to establish compensation terms. In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the Commission on February 10, 2005, we seek further comment on ways to reduce the burdens of such a process.

F. Report to Congress

The Commission will send a copy of the Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order, including this FRFA, in a report to be sent to Congress pursuant to the Congressional Review Act. In addition, the Commission will send a copy of the Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order, including this FRFA, to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration. In addition, the Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order, including this FRFA—or summaries thereof—will be published in the Federal Register.

Ordering Clauses

Pursuant to the authority contained in sections 1-5, 7, 10, 201-05, 207-09, 214, 218-20, 225-27, 251-54, 256, 271, 303, 332, 403, 405, 502 and 503 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. 151-55, 157, 160, 201-05, 207-09, 214, 218-20, 225-27, 251-54, 256, 271, 303, 332, 403, 405, 502, and 503, and §§ 1.1, 1.421 of the Commission's rules, 47 CFR 1.1, 1.421, this Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order in CC Docket No. 01-92 is adopted, and that part 20 of the Commission's rules, 47 CFR Part 20, is amended as set forth below.

The rule revisions adopted in this Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order shall become effective April 29, 2005.Start Printed Page 16145

The Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by T-Mobile USA, Inc., Western Wireless Corporation, Nextel Communications and Nextel Partners is denied as set forth herein.

The Commission's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Reference Information Center, shall send a copy of this Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order, including the Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis, to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration.

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List of Subjects in 47 CFR Part 20

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Federal Communications Commission.

Marlene H. Dortch,

Secretary.

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Final Rule

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For the reasons discussed in the preamble, the Federal Communications Commission amends

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PART 20—COMMERCIAL MOBILE RADIO SERVICES

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1. The authority citation for part 20 is revised to read as follows:

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Authority: 47 U.S.C. 154, 160, 201, 251-254, 303, and 332 unless otherwise noted.

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2. Section 20.11 is amended by adding new paragraphs (d) and (e) to read as follows:

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Interconnection to facilities of local exchange carriers.
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(d) Local exchange carriers may not impose compensation obligations for traffic not subject to access charges upon commercial mobile radio service providers pursuant to tariffs.

(e) An incumbent local exchange carrier may request interconnection from a commercial mobile radio service provider and invoke the negotiation and arbitration procedures contained in section 252 of the Act. A commercial mobile radio service provider receiving a request for interconnection must negotiate in good faith and must, if requested, submit to arbitration by the state commission. Once a request for interconnection is made, the interim transport and termination pricing described in § 51.715 of this chapter shall apply.

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[FR Doc. 05-6318 Filed 3-29-05; 8:45 am]

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