|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 15||February 2, 2001|
As the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin could have as big an impact on the future of technology as Bill Gates has had on its recent past. And the outcome is likely to be every bit as disappointing for consumers.
Just as Microsoft's near-monopoly in consumer software applications has made it difficult for competing products to develop their market, the regional Bell monopolies have made it difficult for competitive telephone and Internet service providers to develop their markets. And if Tauzin has his way, it will only get worse.
Tauzin wants to free the Bells of their only remaining regulatory restraint -- the prohibition against offering long distance and data services in their local market before competition is established in local phone service. Since competition for local service is still nonexistent in most communities, the result is not difficult to predict.
Legislation aimed at lifting the remaining restrictions on the Bells wasn't introduced before Congress recessed, but we're likely to see it soon after the session resumes.
If Tauzin is ultimately successful in getting legislation enacted, local phone competition won't be the only casualty. The tiny foothold that Internet service providers have established in the digital subscriber line (DSL) market will also vanish, leaving consumers in many communities with only one option for high-speed Net access: their regional Bell monopoly.
Some competitive DSL providers are already crying foul, in fact. In many states, DSL resellers have complained that the Bells are slow to respond to work orders from competitors. The Bells' motives for delaying are transparent. Causing problems for their competitors is an easy way to make their own service more appealing to consumers.
Consumers and competitors were the losers when Microsoft monopolized the software market, and consumers and competitors will lose again if the Bells retain monopoly control of the telecommunications market. Our future technology markets should not be controlled by Billy and the Bells.
Connecting rural communities to the "Information Highway" is widely regarded as one of the necessary steps to bridging the digital divide, but contrary to the prevailing view it doesn't necessarily require the cooperation of the local phone company. There are some promising alternative technologies available that NetAction identifies in a new report.
"Will Technology Trickle Down to Rural America?" is an overview of the terrestrial and satellite wireless networks that can be used to bring affordable Internet and broadband service to rural areas of the U.S. and other nations.
The availability of affordable alternatives is good news for rural Internet users. Rural communities are less likely to be served by competing local Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and the massive sell-off of rural local exchanges by regional Bell monopolies has made matters worse.
The paper was written by NetAction intern Kalyani Manohar, a graduate student studying International Telecommunication at Michigan State. The complete paper is available at: http://www.netaction.org/alt-tech/.
Broadband Internet service is less available in rural areas largely because of the high infrastructure costs of wired networks. The alternatives examined in the paper include spread spectrum technology, multi-point, multi-channel distribution systems, geosynchronous earth orbit satellites, and low earth orbit satellites. The paper describes some of the pilot projects and their costs, and includes an appendix with information on networks based on cable and digital set top box technology.
Broadband Briefings is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction to promote policies that encourage rapid and widespread deployment of high-speed Internet access. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policycmakers, and the media about technology policy issues.
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