The Birds are Back

Among the many failures of infrastructure and management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the loss of communications contributed mightily to the confusion inside New Orelans and the poor decision making outside. No terrestrial telecom infrastructure can be entirely immune to 140 mile per hour winds and week-long floods. While most mobile phones and land-lines failed, we have reports of sporadic cell phone coverage in the days following the storm/flood. Eight days after the storm, numerous cell sites came back online in New Orleans. Within a week, Bell South reported that its main regional telecom hub in New Orleans was up. Nevertheless, the company estimates $400-600 million in damage to the telecom infrastructure. The big telecom winner coming out of Read More ›

Telecom reform gets boost with Ensign bill

Senator John Ensign’s proposed new telecommunications law, the Broadband Consumer Choice Act of 2005 (S. 1504) would be the most positive step Congress could take to revive the telecom sector. The Ensign bill would limit the FCC’s ability to pick winners and losers and the cities’ ability to stall video competition while they extract cash and freebies from franchise applicants.
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Ensign’s Preemptive Strike

Want to know what U.S. policy makers looking at telecom should have done 10 years ago? Well, today Senator John Ensign of Nevada introduced far-reaching communications legislation that would substantially deregulate broadband technology and services at both the federal and state level and also would free both cable and telecom carriers from many local video franchising rules and fees. It’s a sweeping move, preempting most of the complex and balkanized patchwork of state and federal laws. If a new Telecom Act is shaped around Ensign’s bill, we could enjoy an explosion in new communications investment. We can only hope that after 10 years of being blinded and confused by opponents of reform, who kicked up as much dust as possible Read More ›

State Telecom Policy Matters

Oklahoma’s telecom regulators appear on the verge of loosening or eliminating many of the state’s price controls. SBC, the state’s main telecom company, said it would immediately deploy DSL service in 68 new communities and would upgrade all 208 of its switching centers in the state by 2007. Many regulators and state legislators call this practice — of investing in new technology when outdated regulations are relaxed — a quid pro quo threat. The rest of the world just calls it good business. In today’s competitive communications marketplace, too-big-for-their-britches state utility regulators cannot force companies to make large unprofitable investments. Governors, state legislators, and utility regulators everywhere should take notice: state telecom policy matters. One wishes these state commissions didn’t Read More ›

Should regulators have a future?

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) will hold another of its frequent meetings this weekend in Austin. These gatherings have been an opportunity for nervous state commissions to consider ways to reinvent themselves now that competition in telecommunications is eliminating the justification for utility-type regulation in this sector.
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Municipal madness

There may be remote, isolated parts of the country where it makes some sense for local officials to spend tax dollars on wireless broadband networks. But for most of America, it is a bad idea. Here is the number one problem that municipalities who want to get into the telecom business face: The technology is improving so rapidly that they are either digging a bottomless pit or they will be stuck with something that belongs in a museum before they retire the bonds that paid for it. Philadelphia wants to be the “number one wireless city in the world.” Years ago, France wanted to be number one in computers. Remember the Minitel? The government of France distributed free terminals to Read More ›

Hands off the Internet backbone

New York regulators issued a white paper last week examining possible “remedies” in connection with the proposed Verizon-MCI and SBC-AT&T mergers. The white paper appropriately concludes that issues associated with the Internet backbone should be addressed at the national level. The Internet is an interstate network that cannot be subject to micromanagement by the public service commissions of 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other territories and possessions.
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SMS and the wireless future of dissent

“New Political Tool: Text Messaging,” by Cathy Hong, Christian Science Monitor, 30 June 2005. The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent piece today about cellphone short message services (SMS), better known as text messaging. In particular, the author focuses on China, now the world’s largest cellphone market with an estimated 350 million subscribers. I have two connections with this story. During my first summer as an intern in Washington, D.C. I attended a a Capital Hill hearing for the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission. During the USCC hearing, “SARS in China: Implications for Media Control and the Economy”, one of the speakers testified that the Chinese government found covering up the SARS outbreak impossible, after tens of millions Read More ›