• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

Determining the winners and losers in telecom

Sep 05, 20034 mins
Data CenterGovernmentLegal

The ability to delude yourself may be an important survival tool.

Jane Wagner

Dear Vorticians,

Only moments, it seems, after I wrapped up last week’s Digest on the FCC’s Triennial Review Order – and the many challenges it will face – the first legal salvos were fired. An association representing three regional Bell telephone companies filed one court petition, another of the Bells filed a second petition, and a group of Internet service providers asked the FCC to delay parts of its order. Not surprising, since even FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in criticizing key facets of the decision, described the Review as a “litigation bonanza.”

The FCC ruling has people focusing on winners and losers in telecom – who comes out ahead and who gets left at the gate? But that’s not unusual here at VORTEX Digest, where we often talk about how Darwinian market forces are altering the fate of species. In fact, two recent exchanges with smart people in the VORTEX ecosystem have gotten me thinking quite a bit about the survival of one species in particular, the incumbent telcos (or RBOCs, if you like). Please weigh in with your views at

Case in point. I had a great discussion with Roland Van der Meer, a partner with the VC firm ComVentures in Palo Alto, Calif., in which he painted a very bleak picture of the future for the ILECs. (Roland was relating the gist of his presentation at the recent SuperComm conference.)

In Van der Meer’s view, the ILECs are losing the telecom war on a number of fronts. They’re hemorrhaging wireline customers to both wireless and cable companies, and the losses will be particularly acute with younger customers cutting their teeth on mobile telephony. They’re losing the broadband war to cable and they face a very difficult time making inroads into the enterprise, where customers don’t know them anywhere near as well as they do the MCIs, AT&Ts and Sprints of the world.

The small-to-midsize business (SMB) market is the best hope for the ILECs, in Van der Meer’s view, and they need to focus their attentions and innovations there.

But I got a very different sense of the ILECs’ future after reading an assessment of the Triennial Review kindly sent to me by Tom Nolle, founder of CIMI Corp. I came away from it feeling as though the ILECs got a lot more than they would have you believe from their public pronouncements and lawsuits. In Nolle’s view, the ILECs came out in a pretty good place indeed, something the capital markets will soon come to understand.

That’s because the rules requiring the ILECs to continue sharing facilities (bundling requirements) with competitors aren’t as favorable as they might appear on first glance. While the states will have a say in overseeing the bundling rules, they will have to meet a tough test to maintain line sharing. According to Nolle, the ruling will “virtually insure the withdrawal” of bundling in some markets.

That’s bad news for the interexchange carriers and competitive LECs that have built business on line sharing. And the ILECs are making life harder for those competitors by: bundling local and long-distance service, as well as broadband; stepping up their attacks on enterprise customers; and signing up with satellite TV companies to offer packages rivaling the cable companies – the so-called triple play of video, phone and broadband. The ILECs actually have the quadruple play with wireless to boot.

So, are the ILECs dinosaurs looking up at the approaching asteroid? Or, like sharks, will they continue to evolve as alpha predators? Your thoughts to

Finally, a quick aside on an earlier topic – spam. Some three-quarters of the 28,000 people surveyed recently by Yahoo! Mail, the free e-mail service, said it was less aggravating to clean a toilet than rid their e-mail box of junk mail. Hmmm. As a former janitor, I suspect these folks are not speaking from experience.

Which would you rather do?

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Stay in touch.