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Network World - There is an almost universal feeling that U.S. telecommunications laws and regulations are way out of step with current telecom reality. The basic law was passed in 1934 and updated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is eons (or longer) ago when it comes to telecom technology.
No one I know is looking forward to the prospect of Congress, outnumbered as it is by lobbyists, trying to "fix" the current mess. If anyone did have any hope that such a process might result in a positive outcome, recent events in Pennsylvania will have extinguished them.
After more than a year and a half of trying, the Pennsylvania legislature recently passed House Bill 30, which updates the existing state telecom regulations. This bill got a lot of press in mid-November because of a provision added late in the game that prohibits municipalities from offering "any telecommunications services, including advanced and broadband services" for a fee without basically getting the permission of the local monopoly telephone company (see Verizon deal lets Philadelphia move with wireless plan),
It's probably not a coincidence that this provision showed up around the time that Philadelphia announced a plan to offer inexpensive, citywide, Wi-Fi-based Internet service. This provision was clearly added to protect local monopoly telephone companies such as Verizon from municipal-based competition. Under the provision, Verizon could block any future deployment of municipal-run networks by saying that it was going to offer similar speed Internet services in the same area. That would be the case even if Verizon's services were not going to be available for years or were going to cost a hundred times what the municipal-run network was going to charge.
This provision almost perfectly symbolizes the entire bill.
The bill starts out with a bunch of good sounding platitudes describing how it aims to ensure that Pennsylvania will get the best telecom services that Verizon decides it wants to deliver.
Oops, that's a bit sarcastic, but that's how I felt when I read this bill. Telecom bills like this are ostensibly for the good of the public but in actuality mostly benefit two monopolies: the regional telephone company and the utility regulators. There is very little in this bill that will benefit the ordinary citizens of Pennsylvania. They will get higher prices and little innovation.
The bill includes some bribes to get specific groups to support it. For example, it establishes an educational technology fund (the e-fund) to support things that educators like. The level and passion of support from some people in the educational community for the bill shows that this type of payoff works. Of course the money has to come from somewhere and it will come from higher phone costs for the residents of Pennsylvania. In other words, the e-fund and other similar goodies in the bill are supported by yet another tax on telephone users.
What is missing is any hint that the best way to get innovation and lower prices would be to encourage competition for basic phone service. But that would threaten both of the bill's main beneficiaries.