• United States
by Edward Horrell

Drowning in a sea of choices

Aug 23, 20043 mins
AT&TNetworkingTelecommunications Industry

I was not surprised by how little noise AT&T’s recent decision to drop out of the residential local services market and concentrate on the business market has made. Other than the few residential customers who will be inconvenienced, who cares?

The telecom field has become too crowded. The result is too many companies clamoring for pieces of the pie and having to cut back on support services just to keep afloat. Instead of having a few great companies offering world-class service and support, we have many marginal companies working hard to stay alive. I am constantly amazed at the number of clients who tell me, “They’re all bad . . . let’s just try to select the best of the bad.”

I recently moderated a panel of leading IT professionals from the Mid-South who agreed to appear before an audience consisting primarily of IT product and service vendors. The mission was to share with this audience how these buyers wanted to be sold to, from the initial call through support. Products and services discussed included local exchange carrier, competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), interexchange carrier, ISP and wireless services; transport; telephone systems; and data network hardware.

Significantly, the IT pros considered virtually all these products and services to be commodities. In other words, they did not feel the providers offered anything to differentiate themselves other than price.

As a vocal proponent of telecom deregulation during the early 1980s, I felt that open competition would be good for a number of reasons, including faster offering of new technology and lower prices. I spoke at conferences all over the country and loudly expressed support of deregulation and the good it would bring.

While I have not changed my mind, I am concerned about the state of the industry. AT&T’s recent removal of its toe from the CLEC water drives it home. While technological changes continue and new services become available, the pioneer in an area barely has time to complete beta tests before new competitors decide to get into the same market. The result is what we have today: too many choices by too many companies offering the same thing.

How many options do we need for local telephone service? Long-distance? ISP services?

If you go to a Hyatt Hotel and then to a Motel 6, you’ll see a distinct difference in quality in what you will get for the price difference. But what IT vendor honestly can say, “We’re more expensive but the difference in quality is measurable”? (Note that I added “honestly,” as many will say, “We’re the best,” but have trouble showing it – there’s that commodity issue again.) Please contact me and show me how your service or product separates itself from the competition. But I don’t want to hear about design issues, better components or better people – show me the measurable performance difference that supports the better design, components or people.

We don’t need more choices. What we need is faster, more reliable, more robust. Losing AT&T for local service is not a loss; it’s just one less option.

Horrell is an independent telecom consultant, speaker and author in Memphis, Tenn. He can be reached at or via his Web site,