Managed Competition in U.S. Telecommunications
23 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2001
Date Written: March 1999
The 1996 Telecommunications Act represents a major turn in U.S. policy towards "deregulation." Instead of tying price deregulation to the opening of entry in a market that has been regulated for decades, the Act creates a maze of new regulatory responsibilities for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the states. Incumbent local telephone companies, who were being freed from cost-based regulation prior to 1996, are now subject to detailed regulation of their wholesale services. Specifically, they must "unbundle" their network facilities into a large number of components and lease these components or "elements" to entrants at cost. Moreover, the Bell companies are not permitted to compete with long distance companies until they satisfy regulators that they have complied with a large number of interconnection requirements. This complex new regulatory regime has been the source of three years of regulatory battles and legal challenges and has needlessly delayed facilities-based entry into telecommunications. It would be far better if the FCC and the states were to pursue a strategy of full deregulation. The regulators should announce a date sufficiently far in the future at which all rate and entry regulation will cease, much as the Congress did for airlines in 1978. This would place potential competitors and customers on notice that fully flexible rates will be in place on this date and that new opportunities could be available for both. It also would reduce the value of rent seeking before the regulatory commissions and the never-ending cycle of rulemakings and court appeals.
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