Washington, D.C., is a hotbed of activity this year, as Congress and the Federal Communications Commission focus on a number of issues impacting the communications industry. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (News - Alert) has set an aggressive schedule to deal with issues such as the technology transition of the public switched telephone network and last mile access issues, including special access. At the same time a series of hearings has begun in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill to examine the possibility of updating our nation’s communications law, including a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
As lawmakers and policymakers debate these issues, it is imperative that the fundamental principles that ensure competition, functioning markets, and reliable networks remain the primary goals of any potential changes to our communications laws. The network must work for everyone, whether it is a residential consumer, a business, or a wholesale customer.
During the past three decades, actions taken by the government have resulted in:
- the break-up of the AT&T (News - Alert) monopoly, which spurred deployment of fiber networks that are the backbone of the Internet and brought us into the Information Age;
- competitive auctions of spectrum that ended duopoly in the wireless market; and
- the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which broke the bottleneck in the last mile and ushered in competition in the local market.
Together these pro-competitive actions have driven more than an estimated $1 trillion investment in cutting-edge infrastructure, job creation, economic growth, and innovation – more than any other government initiatives in the last generation. These are the policies that brought us into the Information Age, led the digital revolution, and changed the way we live, work, communicate and care for each other.
As policymakers debate communications-related issues, any future action must continue to promote competition so that the gains for consumers and in the economy, including innovations in products, services and applications, cannot and will not be lost. Competition is the gateway to foster start-ups and entrepreneurs, and we need to foster a market structure that encourages this creativity, rather than caving to those seeking protectionist rules designed to preserve their market advantage.
As a fierce advocate for competitive principles during the past three decades, COMPTEL (News - Alert) believes there are fundamental actions that Congress and the FCC must take to ensure that the communications market can continue delivering benefits to consumers and the economy, including:
- making certain that large incumbents, such as AT&T and Verizon (News - Alert), provide reasonable wholesale access and interconnection; and
- reaffirming that the ’96 Act’s market-opening provisions apply on a technologically neutral basis.
These actions are vital to ensuring a competitive, free market, where consumers and businesses have a choice of providers. When policymakers support a healthy wholesale communications marketplace, the retail market will be more competitive, encouraging more investment and innovation. More importantly, there is widespread support for these competitive policies, as consumer groups, industry associations, public safety and tech organizations see that their constituencies too can benefit greatly from a competitive marketplace.
Concentration of power in the hands of a few companies, and lack of competition, leads to a stagnant market and slower economic growth. Lawmakers and policymakers need to only look back about 18 years to see how much innovation has taken place as a result of the competitive markets spurred by the ’96 Act and spectrum auctions. Over a trillion dollars have been invested to deploy fiber; bring broadband to homes, offices and even mobile phones; deliver new cutting-edge products and services; and improve the way all Americans can communicate.
The country cannot afford to have Washington do an about-face on policies and laws that have made such a positive impact on our economy, our businesses, and our personal lives. Thwarting pro-competitive policies will have a chilling effect on our nation.
As they address communications issues, the ultimate goal for Congress and the FCC (News - Alert) must be to continue fostering development of a competitive marketplace for all users – consumers, businesses and wholesale customers – and ensure that the network functions for all who use it.
Chip Pickering is the CEO of COMPTEL (www.comptel.org) and a former six-term Congressman from Mississippi. During his time in Congress, he was vice chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and served as the founding chair of the bi-partisan Wireless and Internet Caucus. Prior to his election, Pickering worked for Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and served as a staff member on the Senate Commerce Committee, where he helped shape the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Because of his role in drafting the 1996 Act, he became well known as a Congressional leader on telecommunications issues.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi