The tragedy of the telecommons: Government pricing of unbundled network elements under the telecommunications act of 1996

J. Gregory Sidak, Daniel F. Spulber

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24 Scopus citations


Until last year, local telephone markets had been treated as natural monopolies and thus subject to regulation. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the "Act") seeks to introduce competition into these markets. One method the Act adopts to stimulate such competition is to mandate that incumbent local exchange carriers (LECs) provide access to their unbundled network elements (UNEs). UNEs are the building blocks of a local telephone network, such as loops and switches. In August of 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its First Report and Order, which established a pricing rule for UNEs. The FCC's pricing rule sets the price for a UNE at its total element long-run incremental cost (TELRIC) plus a reasonable share of the incumbent LEC's forward-looking common costs. Mr. Sidak and Professor Spulber propose a pricing methodology to implement that rule based on a combination of what they call the market-determined efficient component-pricing rule (M-ECPR) and competitively neutral end-user charges. They assert that using the M-ECPR to price UNE access is more faithful to the language and intent of the Act than is the approach adopted by the FCC. They also maintain that the FCC misunderstood the efficient component-pricing rule when the agency rejected it as a basis of pricing UNEs After outlining their proposal for pricing UNEs, Mr. Sidak and Professor Spulber argue that the FCC's pricing rule is problematic because it prevents the incumbent LEC from recovering its total costs by denying any recovery of the LEC's historical costs and ensuring that it will not fully recover its forward-looking costs. The authors then respond to criticisms of the M-ECPR by various economists and refute assertions that the principal authors of the original efficient component-pricing rule rejected the M-ECPR in favor of TELRIC pricing for UNEs. Mr. Sidak and Professor Spulber conclude by warning that the FCC's pricing rule would discourage investment in local telecommunications networks and may eventually drive LECs into bankruptcy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1082
Number of pages2
JournalColumbia Law Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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