Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) 

A competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) provides local telephone and internet services in competition with incumbent carriers known as ILECs.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 enabled the rise of CLECs by opening up local markets to competition. 

By leasing parts of the ILEC’s network, CLECs can offer innovative services without massive infrastructure costs.

Becoming a CLEC allows new entrants to compete in telecom markets and brings greater consumer choice. 

This article explores the history of CLECs, why became a CLEC, its regulations and guidelines, and the difference between ILEC and CLEC in detail.

Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) 

What are CLECs?

CLEC stands for Competitive Local Exchange Carrier.

CLECs are telephone companies that compete with incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to provide local telephone service and access to networks.

Some key points about CLECs:s

  • CLECs emerged after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which opened up competition in the local telephone market that was previously dominated by ILECs like AT&T and Verizon. The Act required ILECs to allow CLECs to interconnect with their networks and lease elements of their network at wholesale rates.
  • CLECs build their own network infrastructure or lease capacity from other providers to offer local voice and data services. Many focus on providing services to business customers rather than residential customers.
  • Examples of major CLECs include XO Communications, Level 3 Communications, EarthLink, and RCN Corporation. However, after some initial growth, the CLEC market has declined due to the rise of cable and mobile competition.
  • CLECs typically target high-density business areas rather than residential markets. They compete on price, service quality, customer support, and value-added services.
  • CLECs provide services like local and long-distance calling, broadband internet access, VoIP, dedicated internet access, virtual private networks, optical services, and ethernet among others.
  • CLECs interconnect either with incumbent carriers to resell services or build their network. Interconnection agreements allow CLECs to seamlessly exchange traffic with ILECs.

Overall, CLECs are important competitive forces in the telecom market that expand customer choice and accelerate innovation in telecom services, especially for business customers.

Despite facing challenges from cable and mobile competitors, they continue to play a role in providing competitive local telephone and high-capacity data services.

The History of CLECs

1. Pre-1996 Telephone Monopolies

  • The 1984 Bell System breakup created the ILECs as regional monopoly providers
  • ILECs controlled local markets due to regulatory and cost barriers for new entrants
  • Lack of competition meant little incentive for ILECs to innovate or lower prices

2. The Telecommunications Act of 1996

  • Eliminated regulatory barriers to enable local service competition with ILECs
  • Required ILECs to lease network elements to CLECs at wholesale rates
  • Spurred entry of MFS, TCG, and other early CLECs to challenge ILECs
  • Significantly accelerated CLEC formations until overbuilding led to consolidation

3. Current Landscape

  • Many early CLECs went bankrupt or merged amidst financial issues and resistance
  • Today’s CLECs operate at smaller scales but still promote vital market competition
  • CLECs continue upgrading from copper to fiber to offer enhanced services
  • Strategic mergers and acquisitions allow CLECs to expand their service footprints

Why Become a CLEC?

1. Lower Barriers to Entry

  • Bypass high infrastructure costs by leasing existing ILEC network elements
  • Eliminates the need to construct an end-to-end network from scratch
  • Enables market entry and economies of scale without massive upfront CAPEX

2. Flexibility and Innovation

  • CLECs have fewer regulatory constraints compared to ILECs
  • Ability to offer new technologies and services not provided by ILECs
  • More flexibility in pricing, marketing, bundles, and partnerships

3. Competitive Opportunities

  • Offer significant pricing discounts on basic telephone and internet
  • Target underserved customer segments and geographies
  • Leverage existing enterprise customer relationships
  • Enhance value propositions through service quality and customer experience

Regulations and Guidelines

1. Certification and Interconnection

  • Must obtain state certification to provide local exchange services
  • Required to interconnect networks with ILEC at centralized points
  • ILECs must allow lease access to network components under wholesale rates

2. Obligations and Oversight

  • Follow regulations like CALEA, USF, E911 services, and number portability
  • Prices set by market forces rather than commission rate regulation
  • Mergers face regulatory reviews similar to ILEC deals to ensure competition

3. Market Power Restrictions

  • CLECs with over 10% market share may face additional regulations per Telecom Act
  • Designed to limit the exercise of monopoly power in the absence of facilities-based competition
  • Bankruptcies are handled through normal corporate bankruptcy legal processes


ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers) refer to the traditional regional telephone companies that existed before the Telecommunications Act of 1996, such as Verizon and AT&T.

They owned the copper wires and switches that comprised the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) refer to the new telecom companies that emerged after the 1996 Act, which opened up competition in the local telephone market previously monopolized by the ILECs.

The CLECs were allowed to lease parts of the ILEC network and resell services to customers.

Key Differences:

  • Ownership of infrastructure: ILECs own the legacy telephone infrastructure like copper wires, switches, and central offices. CLECs lease parts of the ILEC network and build their infrastructure.
  • Market position: ILECs held regional monopolies before 1996 and still maintain a dominant position. CLECs started from scratch and have a smaller market share.
  • Services provided: ILECs offer traditional landline phone services and DSL Internet. CLECs mainly focus on VoIP phone services and fiber-based broadband.
  • Regulation: ILECs are subject to more regulations than the incumbents. CLECs have greater pricing flexibility and less regulatory oversight.
  • Customer base: ILECs serve both residential and business customers. CLECs tend to target small/medium businesses.
  • Network reach: ILECs have an extensive network footprint covering their traditional service areas. CLECs generally have a limited network in certain metropolitan areas.

Overall, ILECs are legacy telephone companies with extensive infrastructure and customers.

CLECs are newer competitors with smaller networks focused on innovative services to capture market share from ILECs.

The 1996 Act aimed to introduce competition in local phone services by allowing CLECs to operate alongside the incumbent ILECs.


In conclusion, CLECs have played a vital role in opening local telecom markets to competition.

By leasing ILEC network infrastructure, they can bypass substantial startup costs and rapidly launch services.

CLECs bring competitive pricing and innovative offerings that benefit consumers. Though CLECs face regulations, they operate with more flexibility than ILECs.

Becoming a CLEC enables new entrants to successfully compete and drive improvements in the telecommunications industry. Their presence will continue providing customers with competitive choices.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Ques 1: What services can CLECs provide?

Ans: CLECs can provide all the same local telephone and DSL internet services that ILECs offer. They also commonly offer long-distance calling, VoIP, integrated business services, fiber connectivity, and video solutions.

Ques 2: How do CLECs interconnect with ILECs?

Ans: CLECs connect to the ILEC’s network at a physical point of interconnection, usually located in an ILEC central office. This allows the exchange of traffic under interconnection agreements.

Ques 3: What regulations apply to CLECs?

Ans: CLECs must comply with regulations like CALEA, USF contributions, number portability, and E911 services. Their prices are market-based rather than rate-regulated. Mergers and acquisitions face regulatory scrutiny.

Ques 4: What are the main advantages of being a CLEC?

Ans: CLECs can bypass the large capital costs of building end-to-end networks. They have flexibility in services and operations. CLECs can leverage existing business relationships and deliver competitive pricing.

Ques 5: What led to the downfall of many early CLECs?

Ans: Many CLECs overextended themselves financially, engaged in deceptive accounting, lacked economies of scale, and faced resistance from ILECs. These issues caused bankruptcies among CLECs in the early 2000s.

Evelyn Brown
Evelyn Brown

Evelyn Brown is a knowledgeable and dedicated reviewer of business communication softwares. When she's not testing the latest platforms or providing in-depth analyses for his readers, you can find her playing guitar and hiking local trails.