SBC Opens Door to DSL Competitors

SAN ANTONIO (08/28/2000) - Despite SBC Communications Inc.'s plan to open its neighborhood DSL access gear to competitors on a trial basis, some competitors say the move won't actually increase competition.

The trial gives competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC) specializing in DSL the chance to reach millions of DSL customers who would otherwise be inaccessible. The CLECs, though, will be allowed to sell only the speeds and flavor of DSL that SBC offers, not introduce competing options.

"We don't fully support the trial, but we have to do something," says Brian Farley, associate general counsel for Rhythms NetConnections Inc., one of the CLECs participating. The alternative is not having any chance to sell DSL to millions of SBC customers, he says.

The trial does give the CLECs the chance to gain experience placing orders with SBC and working out billing procedures, says Covad Communications Co., another CLEC in the trial.

From SBC's perspective, the trial demonstrates to state and federal regulators that SBC is attempting to open its network to competitors, something required by the Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996, says Jeff Moore, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

"SBC has plenty of incentive to stay on the right side of the regulators," Moore says. "They have other irons in the fire, like getting [regulators'] permission to sell long-distance."

CLECs install their own DSL equipment in the switching offices owned by the traditional local carriers such as SBC. But millions of customers get local phone service over wires that originate not in switching offices but in remote cabinets that house switching-office access gear called digital loop carriers (DLC). Switching offices are entire buildings that generally have space for CLEC equipment, but DLC's are housed in tiny weatherproof enclosures where space is at a premium.

SBC and other traditional carriers say there is no room for CLEC equipment in these enclosures. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to force the carriers to open up these remote terminals to CLECs.

During the trial, 11 competitors will be allowed to sell DSL services to customers served by remote terminals but will have to do so by using wires and DSL Access Multiplexers (DSLAM) controlled by SBC.

This means the CLECs can offer only asymmetric DSL. One of the trialing CLECs, Birch Telecom Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., says it generally sells symmetric DSL in areas where it uses its own DSLAMs.

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