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AIRTOUCH/GTE INTERCONNECT PACT EXAMPLE TO LECS

WASHINGTON-An agreement between GTE Corp. and AirTouch Paging, signed earlier this month, is a good example of how the telecommunications industry can work with “regulatory guidance but without regulatory fiat,” said Rob Hoggarth, senior vice president for paging and messaging for the Personal Communications Industry Association.

The Aug. 3 agreement should be an example to other local exchange carriers that the government will “treat seriously” their interconnection obligations under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Hoggarth said.

The agreement between AirTouch Paging and GTE will require GTE to pay for terminating calls on AirTouch’s network. It allows rating and routing procedures in the delivery of traffic to be separated, which will facilitate wide area calling plans, and calls for a 70-percent discount on facilities charges to AirTouch.

The agreement seems to be a direct result of a letter sent by then-FCC Common Carrier Bureau Chief Richard Metzger Dec. 30, 1997, requiring LEC interconnection. The letter created “an environment where this was the next logical step,” Hoggarth said. Some LECs filed petitions for reconsideration and letters of review on Metzger’s letter, which are still being considered by the Common Carrier Bureau.

In a statement, PCIA President Jay Kitchen said he hoped the “landmark agreement … will be the catalyst to a new chapter in interconnection negotiations. This has the potential to be a blueprint for real success in similar negotiations around the country.”

A victory on interconnection, however, is only one of many regulatory issues the paging industry is focusing on in the last half of 1998. Some of the other issues include implementing the digital wiretap act, pay-phone compensation, universal service, licensing and auctions, and numbering.

CALEA

The advanced messaging industry is working to develop a standard to implement the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The standard should be approved by the industry by the current compliance deadline of Oct. 25, Hoggarth said.

The messaging industry has had little input from law enforcement regarding the CALEA standard. A similar standard devised by the telecommunications industry has met with resistance from law enforcement and the FCC is reviewing whether the telecom standard is sufficient.

Efforts to avert a similar impasse between industry and law enforcement are underway, but law enforcement (by its own admission) is not as technically knowledgeable about advanced messaging as it is about two-way voice communications so law enforcement does not know what capabilities to request.

The industry is concerned because “there is no statute of limitations for when law enforcement can challenge a CALEA standard,” Hoggarth said.

On the one-way paging side, there has been no opposition to a standard devised earlier this year that allows law enforcement to clone pagers as part of ongoing investigations.

Pay-phone compensation

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit told the FCC it must fully explain its pay-phone compensation program by Nov. 15. The Common Carrier Bureau is working to meet this deadline. The comment cycle has been completed on the appeals court decision and a decision now must be drafted and approved by the FCC.

The paging industry continues to press for a coin-in-box pay-phone compensation scheme where customers would deposit coins to make any call from a pay phone, including calls made to toll-free numbers. Many paging companies offer toll-free numbers to their customers. When a customer chooses this service, people are able to place calls to the subscriber’s pager without incurring long-distance charges. Today, pay-phone users can avoid inserting coins, even for local calls, by dialing a toll-free number.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit involves FCC rules dating back to 1996 requiring end users to compensate pay-phone operators 35 cents for each coinless call. The FCC instituted the rules after Congress said pay-phone owners should be compensated for “each and every” call placed from a pay phone. Prior to the telecom act, pay-phone operators were not compensated for coinless calls.

Universal service

The FCC has rejected most of the paging industry’s arguments regarding paying into the Universal Service Fund. The industry complained it was required to pay into the USF but was unable to receive any benefits from it.

To combat this rejection, the paging industry has been involved in educating the FCC’s Common Carrier Bureau about the paging industry, Hoggarth said. This education effort has led to a recognition at both the FCC and on Capitol Hill that paging carriers are impacted disproportionately by universal-service requirements.

Although Hoggarth said Capitol Hill recognizes the paging industry’s concerns, he does not foresee congressional action on this issue when Congress returns next month. Congress has been active in universal-service oversight, especially with regards to the Schools and Libraries Fund.

Licensing and auctions

Many licensing issues are contained in a three-inch backlog that was the subject of a severe rebuke recently by the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. While the FCC’s Wireless Bureau said it is serious about resolving the backlog, time lines for specific issues are not available.

There are two main areas of licensing concerns: geographic licensing and narrowband personal communications services. Hoggarth said PCIA believes geographic licensing is critical. Some additional licenses may become available next year as the five-year buildout requirement date is achieved. Only one carrier has completely built out its network and industry analysts see this as having “interesting regulatory consequences” in the coming year.

NPCS petitioned the FCC in June 1997, claiming it was anti-competitive for C- and F-block licensees to be able to defer their payments.

“We are concerned that recent FCC actions allowing C-block companies to defer loan payments make it more difficult for NPCS companies to access capital, thereby tipping the scale in favor of broadband competitors,” Conxus President Bill deKay said at the time. deKay said he understood why the FCC wanted to give C- and F-block licensees some relief but wanted the relief to be applied to all carriers. “It’s patently unfair to consider relief of payment to one class of PCS licensees and avoid giving it to another class,” he said.

The NPCS petition is expected to be dealt with as part of a larger NPCS proceeding. A decision is not expected until near the end of the century, but PCIA hopes to influence that decision with a report to be presented by the end of September. The report is being compiled by the consulting firm of Frost & Sullivan and will give the FCC the necessary data to make decisions in the NPCS arena, Hoggarth said.

Another licensing issue is radio-frequency emissions compliance. The official date for total compliance is October 2000, but since paging authorizations are renewed in April 1999, full compliance for paging is in reality required 18 months earlier than for other services.

Numbering

Numbers are the building blocks of the paging industry, Hoggarth said. “[Numbers are] like oxygen. If you don’t have them, you die,” he said.

The North American Numbering Council is looking at several issues, including number pooling, that may pose technical problems for paging carriers.

Number pooling would allow carriers not using all of the numbers in an assigned exchange to give those extra numbers back so another carrier could use them.

Number pooling would require some paging carriers to upgrade their switches because current paging technology allows paging carriers to terminate calls but not originate calls. Number pooling and number porting both require origination.

The numbering issues are another example of
how the paging industry must differentiate itself from the rest of the telecom industry. “It is important that a broad approach doesn’t sweep us in or restrict our access to numbers,” Hoggarth said.

Business issues

On a more business focus, PCIA is working with its members on an answer to the Galaxy IV situation that occurred last May. Although FCC Chairman William Kennard at the time said the FCC’s Network Reliability and Interoperability Council would be looking into the issue, Hoggarth said as of last week, no one from NRIC had contacted him. Kennard recently named AT&T Corp.’s Michael Armstrong as NRIC chairman.

Additionally, the paging industry has an economic incentive to solve any lingering millennium-bug problems, Hoggarth said. Although, Hoggarth is not aware of any paging-specific year-2000 issues, he said the industry is concerned about potential billing-system problems.

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