FCC Delays as Long as Possible, Keeps Price Controls

A year and 90 days ago, Qwest gave the FCC a request for forbearance from complying with some outdated price controls. The FCC had a year and 90 days to respond, or the petition would be granted automatically. Unfortunately, the FCC decided at the eleventh hour to deny Qwest’s request.

The FCC’s vote signals the Commission’s unwillingness to consider revisiting any obsolete and anti-competitive regulation passed by Congress. But chucking old regulation is exactly what the forbearance provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was designed to do! By allowing the FCC to grant forbearance from regulation, Congress sensibly – an adverb I don’t get to use much when describing Congress’s actions – recognized that their regulations would not be necessary forever. Now that there is increasing telephone competition from sources Congress could not have dreamed of in 1996 – wireless, VOIP, cable telephony, etc. – the price controls are an even worse idea than they were in ’96.

So, Congress also built in a safety valve – if the FCC can’t get its act together and give a good reason for denying petitions for forbearance, such petitions are automatically granted after a certain time. This keeps the FCC from just stringing companies on forever, never responding to their requests (since failure to respond cannot be appealed).

The FCC’s move goes against Congress’s intent. The Commission is up to its old tricks to hold onto as much power as it can.