The Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration has asked the FCC to open a rulemaking on the way incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) retire their copper infrastructure. The move may help competitive carriers (CLECs) who lease those lines.

ILECs don’t rip out their copper when they install fiber. The procedure, as they install more and more fiber, is to send a copper retirement petition to the FCC. These are granted in as few as seven business days. Once approved, the ILECs no longer have to support those lines, although apparently, they typically still do.

CLECs who may be using those lines (or who had planned to) remain concerned, however, that the ILECs could entirely shut down their retired copper loops. Recall, too, that the FCC has determined that ILECs do not have to lease fiber loops to CLECs.

In essence, the CLECs see a threat that as ILECs are increasing their potential fiber markets, they could simultaneously shrink the CLECs’ potential markets. Meanwhile, the pace at which the ILECs file petitions for copper retirement is accelerating as the pace of their fiber installations increases.

As a practical matter, the ILEC of most concern is Verizon, since it is running fiber to the home for FiOS, while AT&T continues to rely on copper for U-verse. Qwest has yet to announce how it will proceed with its network upgrade.

XO Communications is one of the CLECs who asked the Office of Advocacy to ask the FCC to review this process in light of the possible harm to CLECs, and consider establishing new rules that may better protect the CLECs’ business.

The Office of Advocacy has sent a letter with that request to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. In it, the Office asserts that CLECs are developing competitive new services that ultimately benefit consumers. A rulemaking, the Office said, will give these companies a formal venue for discussing the issue.