The five members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made their debut in front of a U.S. Senate committee earlier this month and raised several issues that Canadian regulators have been dealing with for years. The commissioners dealt with internal topics like regulation, external matters such as consumer protection and policy items like rollout of services. FCC chair Michael Powell told the committee on commerce, science and transportation of the problems attempting to promote local wireline competition. Soon after passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC established an unbundled network element platform (UNE-P). Similar to unbundling rules implemented by the CRTC, the regime provided easy entry for new entrants. But provisions of the plan were struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 1998; an attempt to rewrite the regulations was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year. "It bears repeating that seven years into the Act, there have yet to be a set of unbundled network element rules that have survived judicial review, despite two major commission attempts," Powell explained. "Hopefully, the third time is the charm. It is vital the commission craft a judicially sound set of rules in the triennial review in order to finally settle this critical chapter of implementing the Act, and stabilize the foundation of the wireline local competition industry." Commissioner Michael Copps, a member of the Democratic Party minority on the FCC, raised the question of how to maintain service following the collapse of a telco. Canadian regulators faced the same issue two years ago when Norigen Communications and Axxent Inc. went out of business (NL, Sept. 24/01). "In a competitive environment, we must establish a concrete plan for how we will protect consumers in the event a carrier ceases operations or otherwise disrupts service," he told the senators. "A central responsibility of the FCC is to protect the network from dangerous disruption, not only for consumers, but for critical public safety, military, and government users. We need to make sure we do all we can to protect consumers and ensure that they do not face service disruptions." Kathleen Abernathy, one of three Republican Party appointees on the commission, spoke of changes within the regulator itself. This mirrors debate that has been going on about the role of the CRTC (NL, May 7/02). "Another crucial part of promoting competition in a stable regulatory environment is pursuing a strong enforcement policy," she told the committee. "Market-opening mandates are worth little to competitors unless they are swiftly and stringently enforced. Indeed, a record of poor enforcement can deter competitive entry and investment just as surely as an absence of rules can." Fellow Republican Kevin Martin took up the call for rollout of Internet backbone. He made many of the same arguments that have been made in Canadian discussions. "Incumbents should have the proper incentives to invest the capital necessary to make 21st century broadband capabilities available to all American consumers. This in turn would allow consumers to experience the benefits of next generation services and applications that new broadband networks can offer," Martin said. The newest member of the FCC spoke of deregulation. Jonathan Adelstein said that it was the other side of the competition coin. "The issue now before us is how to determine, as specifically as possible, when the presence of competition is sufficient to permit the deregulation envisioned by the Act and how that deregulation should go forward," the Democratic appointee stated. "Once the presence of meaningful competition allows the FCC to modify or repeal rules and regulations, we cannot walk away from consumers."