Telecommunications:

Development of Competition in Local Telephone Markets

RCED-00-38: Published: Jan 25, 2000. Publicly Released: Feb 8, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the development of competition in telecommunications markets, focusing on the: (1) development of competition in local telephone markets and the market strategies employed by new carriers in five states under the 1996 Telecommunications Act; and (2) key issues affecting that development and the enforcement activities of federal and state regulators to address those issues.

GAO noted that: (1) little competition has emerged in local telephone markets, but new competing carriers are pursuing several different market strategies; (2) according to Federal Communications Commission data, incumbent local telephone service providers controlled all but about 3 percent of the traditional wireline local telephone service market as of December 1998; (3) while competing companies have concentrated on serving relatively profitable urban business communities, some of the competing companies were serving residential customers and customers outside of the largest cities; (4) the number of lines competing carriers serve has, however, approximately tripled in 1998 alone; (5) the competing carriers were delivering services through all of the methods envisioned by the 1996 act: reselling incumbents' services, leasing parts of incumbents' networks, or constructing their own facilities; (6) an important competitive strategy being undertaken by both types of carriers is the simultaneous marketing and sale of a package of varied telecommunications services; (7) the act requires incumbent carriers to provide competing carriers with access to elements of their telephone networks to enable those carriers to order and provide service to their customers; (8) this has been difficult because the incumbents' systems were not originally designed to be accessible to users external to the incumbent carrier; (9) negotiating the necessary agreements between an incumbent and competing carriers can take a significant amount of time and delay their market entry, as can negotiating the placement of competing carriers' equipment in an incumbent's facilities; (10) incumbent carriers invested money and other resources to make elements of their telephone network accessible to competing carriers, had signed interconnection agreements, and had allowed competing carriers to place their equipment inside their own facilities; (11) competing carriers said the act and accompanying rules needed better enforcement; (12) state and federal regulators recognize their role is changing to focus more on mediating disputes among carriers and enforcing laws and regulations; and (13) further competition seems likely to develop in local telephone markets because competing carriers continue to expand their market share using all entry modes envisioned by the act, legal and regulatory issues are becoming clarified, and the packaging of varied telecommunications services may enable firms providing other communications services to effectively compete for local telephone customers.

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