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SOUTHWESTERN BELL, PAGING FIRMS SPAR OVER INTERCONNECTION RULES

WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission has asked interested parties to comment on a dispute between Southwestern Bell Telephone and a handful of paging carriers regarding interconnection compensation between local exchange carriers and paging providers.

The regional holding company, which operates in five states, listed the following paging providers as those that have not been paying any type of fee for traffic services: AT&T Companies (McCaw Communications, AirSignal, Mobilefone Services Inc.), AirTouch Paging, PageNet Paging, Map Mobile Communications Inc., Media Co-Paging Inc. and Network USA. Other unnamed carriers are paying fees, subject to any future commission decision.

In a letter sent to Common Carrier Bureau Chief Regina Keeney April 25, Southwestern Bell requested clarification of the commission’s rules regarding who pays whom for what services. The carrier, in an April 1 meeting with the bureau, contended that it had lost almost $500,000 plus an ongoing $125,000 per month because paging companies had not paid for messaging traffic carried by the telco nor for the facilities used to transport that traffic to a paging company’s facilities. Southwestern Bell reiterated that the bureau had suggested that private dispute talks continue along with asking the paging carriers in question to put fees in escrow until a decision could be reached. “Thus far, no pagers have agreed even to this interim compromise,” Southwestern Bell wrote.

Continuing its complaint, the telephone company wrote, “Paging providers are cost causative; absent their service, the cost of carrying traffic over LEC facilities to a pager’s premises does not exist. While local exchange customers may compensate LECs for some costs, they in no way cover all of the costs for providing one-way traffic and facilities to paging providers. By analogy, for a regular local phone call a LEC receives payment from both the calling party and the called party … Paging providers, on the other hand, want the calling party alone to bear the full cost of transport, not only over his loop but also over the pager’s dedicated facility all the way to the paging provider’s premises-all with no contribution from the paging provider. This is, simply put, a free ride.”

Southwestern Bell also pointed out that if the commission’s current interpretation of its interconnection rules prohibited a telco from charging for traffic or for facilities, telcos would bear the entire cost of paging services. The company said it “requests clarification if whether the commission actually intended this inequitable result and, if not, how the commission believes LECs should recover the costs of interconnecting with paging providers,” it wrote. “Alternatively, SWBT petitions for a change in the rules to allow LECs to recover reasonable costs from paging providers.”

In response, a May 16 joint letter from the paging carriers in question called Southwestern Bell’s petition “not only procedurally defective, its underlying contentions are wrong as a matter of law and sound public policy and must be rejected.”

According to the coalition, commission rules state that “a LEC must bear the costs it incurs in transporting calls-including paging calls-that originate on its network and terminate on the network of a paging provider;” the paging carriers also believe that what Southwestern Bell really wants is a reconsideration of the rules as they apply to paging. In addition, the respondents said, “LECs may not charge a terminating carrier-whether landline competitive LEC or commercial mobile radio service provider-for the costs of facilities used by the LEC to transport traffic to the terminating carrier’s switch.”

The carriers added, “The rule in part responds to record evidence that LECs were charging paging providers for the facilities used by the LEC to transport traffic to the paging carriers’ networks. The commission specifically ruled that LECs must discontinue such charges as of the effective date of the local competition rules.” That rule went into effect in November, 1996.

Comments on the original letter and its response are due June 13; reply comments are due June 27.

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