The report, published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, claims that 212,000 new jobs would be created and $127 billion a year would be added to GDP over the next five years if telecom regulations were overhauled.
“The government needs to step aside so that markets and technology can step in,” said Chamber head Thomas Donohue, during a seminar organized by the Chamber that featured several telecom titans, including BellSouth CTO Bill Smith.
The Chamber, with its three million member businesses, is viewed as the voice of American small business.
BellSouth, a giant incumbent carrier with huge lobbying interest, was out promoting the Chamber's findings because the report -- "Sending the Right Signals: Promoting Competition through Telecommunications Reform" -- supports its position, yet comes from a different segment of the business community.
Bob Blau, VP of public policy development for BellSouth, says: “The Chamber’s concern is not the telecom industry. Their concern is business users and the U.S. economy.”
The essence of the Chamber's report is that the U.S. regulatory scene, while not directly responsible for the telecom recession, is indeed making the U.S. less competitive throughout the world. “It’s very difficult to ask a bunch of regulators without any technology training –- who are lawyers by profession -– to figure whether this policy or that affects a Lucent’s ability to compete with their counterparts in China or wherever," Blau says. “The best part of valor here may be [for the FCC] to get out of the way and let markets make those decisions.”
The study doesn't just assign blame, though. It makes six reform recommendations:
- Phase out mandatory network sharing rules. This, while punishing competitors who rely on incumbent networks, will give the Bells an incentive to upgrade and build out their own networks.
- Make 438 MHz of prime radio spectrum available for commercial wireless operators. This, the Chamber notes, will make wireless broadband a viable competitor to DSL.
- Exempt high-speed cable modem and digital subscriber lines from common carrier regulations.
- Exempt VOIP and other Internet services from state telephone service regulations.
- Raise funds for Universal Service directly from general tax revenues, rather than from hidden costs that penalize telecommunications competition and the growth of network services.
- Distribute Universal Service funds directly to targeted consumers, rather than with payments to phone companies.
BellSouth CTO Smith says the current regulatory framework is impeding his company’s ability to deploy fiber-to-the-home and broadband-on-demand services. "Furthermore, voice over IP is an excellent example of a technology that has far outpaced the obsolete regulatory framework in the U.S."
Speaking of VOIP, the FCC faced pressure on a second front this week as U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS) and 61 other members of Congress delivered a letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell calling on the Commission to declare VOIP an interstate medium that's not subject to state and local regulations.
One common thread between the Chamber's report, the Bell's lobbying, and the VOIP-loving Congressmen is that time is of the essence. All time spent arguing for regulations -- or phasing out the existing rules -- is simply extending the lead other nations have in communications.
“If somebody were benefiting from this regulatory morass it would be one thing," grouses BellSouth's Blau. "But they aren’t -- at least not in this country. The people benefiting are our competitors in Asia and elsewhere.”
— Gale Morrison, special to Light Reading