Wake-up call: Legislature should act on telecom reform
One of the bills making its way through the Legislature during these last days of the regular session is the Communications Reform Act, which would remove some Public Service Commission regulation of communications services.
Specifically, the proposal would deregulate wireline dial-tone telephone services. The PSC would still have jurisdiction over complaints and disputes between consumers and local phone companies, but it would no longer set rates or dictate the way companies bundle their services.
The telecommunications industry evolved dramatically over 10 years, with wireless and voice over Internet Protocol services emerging as the dominant means of making telephone calls. Broadband connections enable service providers to customize multimedia and deliver in-home networking, on-demand video and a wealth of other services.
Last year, according to The Heartland Institute, the number of wireless telephone accounts in the United States surpassed the number of wireline accounts. Cable companies are entering the telephone market and grabbing thousands of new customers each week through voice over Internet Protocol "digital phone" services. Clearly, the landline telephone is not the wave of the future.
Cable giants like Time Warner, Comcast and Charter; wireless companies like SBC-MCI and Verizon-AT&T; and satellite systems bundle services in packages tailored to consumers' needs. And because the PSC doesn't regulate cable, wireless and satellite companies, they have an advantage over BellSouth and other local carriers. Those carriers deserve the opportunity to compete fairly and participate in the broadband boom, increasing competition in the marketplace and thus improving services and keeping rates affordable.
Deregulation of telecom services is the first step toward that end.
New technology brings more diverse services and a revolution in a telecommunications industry dominated by fierce competition. It no longer makes sense to regulate and thus hamstring the companies that provide landline services.