Democratic Senators Push Back on FCC Bulk Data Proposal

Five Democratic senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, pushing back against the FCC’s proposal to regulate the $40 billion market for the bulk data connections powering ATMs, retail transactions and cell phone towers.

The senators worried that the new rules would hinder investment and serviceability of broadband infrastructure in rural areas, a complaint also lobbed by AT&T Inc., a critic of the rule.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, said the commission’s plan to impose price caps on the business services provided by older bulk-data technology “could have an outsized negative impact on rural telecommunications providers in our states.”

Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a new plan to regulate the price of bulk-data services last Friday. In a split from industry filings expected to inform the FCC’s proposal, the plan does not factor in the competitiveness of local bulk-data marketplaces when deciding when to impose price caps.

The senators, including Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), argued that the FCC should recognize areas where competition between carriers is flourishing. They asked the commission to acknowledge the costs and unique challenges inherent in providing bulk-data services to rural and small-town communities.

“As the economic engines of small towns, small businesses are important to the success of our constituents and our states and they need access to high quality and reliable broadband to be able to successfully compete and succeed in the global marketplace,” the lawmakers wrote.

“It is important the commission not undercut the incentives that would allow them to access these critical economic resources.”

Other Democratic politicians have recently expressed concerns over the FCC’s new bulk-data proposal. Reps. Gene Green and Bill Flores (D-Texas) sent a letter one day before the commission unveiled the new proposal, asking that the commission consider the full extent of marketplace data and recognize the areas where bulk-data competition is highest.

Jack Markell, the Democratic governor of Delaware, sent his own letter to Wheeler on the day the new bulk-data rules were unveiled. He also urged the FCC to consider the data on local competitive marketplaces, and worried that blanket price caps could hurt broadband infrastructure investment in rural communities.

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