BellSouth says it will move ahead with fiber-to-the-curb deployments of advanced network services following what it sees as a favorable FCC ruling on Thursday.

The 4-1 vote by the Federal Communications Commission means that BellSouth and the other regional Bell operating companies do not have to provide discounted access to their new high-speed deployments to competitors.

“The FCC found that those obligations discouraged incumbent carriers’ investment in FTTH (fiber to the home) broadband facilities,” the agency said in a statement, referring to rules that would have required the Bells to lease fiber facilities at discounted rates.

The rulings apply to fiber that runs within 500 feet of homes.

“As a result, we plan to increase the number of homes we annually equip with an advanced fiber platform by 40 percent in 2005,” said Herschel Abbott, vice president of governmental affairs for BellSouth, in a statement.

Reuters reported that BellSouth’s expansion program could reach 1.2 million homes by the end of next year.

SBC Communications, another of the Baby Bells, said in a statement that it would spend up to $6 billion to lay nearly 39,000 miles of fiber to reach 18 million homes by 2007.

BellSouth had asked for the FCC to make a ruling on the so-called unbundling of fiber-to-the-curb and fiber-to-the-home loops.

“This is good news for our customers. Because of this ruling, we will have the flexibility to redirect our investments to provide the next generation of speeds and services to more customers, more quickly,” Abbott added.

“The FCC has taken a step in the right direction by putting functionality over form with their decision to treat Fiber-to-the-Curb and Fiber-to-the-Home architectures equally,” he said. “As the FCC continues to clear out the regulatory underbrush, consumers will increasingly gain access to the broadband products and services they desire.

Some consumer groups and service providers criticized the FCC decision, saying it would limit competition.

The Bells had said requiring sharing of facilities was unfair since cable TV firm,s which now offer telephony and high-speed Internet services, do not have to do so.

The FCC has in the past required the Bells to share networks and to lease older, copper-based facilities at discounts. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court refused to hear cases from Bell competitors wanted such requirements re-imposed after they were struck down in federal courts.

On Wednesday, BellSouth announced it had signed an agreement with Granite Communications for use of BellSouth’s network. BellSouth said it now has 22 such contracts with other communications providers in place.

Power line standards set

Also Thursday, the FCC set standards for broadband over power line (BPL) transmission. Progress Energy and EarthLink have experimented with broadband trials.

“We applaud the FCC’s unanimous vote today establishing standards for broadband over power lines. This vote will help spur the development and deployment of BPL, which has great potential to become the third broadband wire into the home,” said Dave Baker, vice president of law and public policy at EarthLink.

“EarthLink has been actively involved for several years with the development of BPL, and we are encouraged by this opportunity as a new platform to deliver broadband services to consumers,” he added.