Optical/IP Networks

USTA: Whatya Got?

As some of the Light Reading crew packs its bags in preparation for the scented hallways of the Mandalay Bay for next week's TelecomNext show, I can’t help but wonder, will it all be worth it?

The United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) , the administrator of this event, held a similar event just last November, also in Las Vegas. That event’s primary purpose, as I recall, was to to show that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) CEO Ivan Seidenberg could get up on stage and do the white man’s overbite to music from U2.

Thumbing through the conference materials, it all looks vaguely familiar. Only there’s not quite as much, this time around.

Looking for a tutorial? Well, better hope for the best. Three out of five tutorials on this page are listed as “cancelled”.

I’m also a bit confused by the keynote schedule, which, as far as I can tell, consists of one giant session consisting of 87 speakers, which begins Monday and hopefully ends sometime before Memorial Day weekend.

But I think TelecomNext has bigger issues.

Just to clarify, the USTA I'm talking about is not the United States Trotting Association -- which actually comes up before the telecom USTA on a Google search. No, the USTA we're talking about is actually the major lobbyist organization primarily representing the RBOCs and other incumbent telecom operators here in North America.

In other words, this show is run by lawyers who get paid by incumbent carriers to tell politicians to protect their business interests. And here’s the rub: Possibly by the time the show starts, all of the incumbents may have merged into one single RBOC. If we’re lucky, the government might insist that there be at least two of them.

Yes, we're going backwards in time. Typically, industries consolidating toward duopoly will tend to narrow into a monochromatic vision. Let’s face it, we are heading back to the days of Ma Bell, so there are serious questions about the creative energy flowing in the incumbent telecom market.

Will this show, with the inherent bias of its organizers, really present a fair, open, and creative view of the future of the industry? Will we really see a “vision”? Will it include upstarts in the Internet industry, the cable companies, and fresh ideas in the world of content and broadband applications?

The TelecomNext organizers have done their best to make their show look hip and fresh, as they did last fall when a grey-haired incumbent telecom CEO shuffled up on stage to the music of Green Day. They’ve even thrown a few bones to their enemies – apparently, they let some of the cable guys in the house.

There's will also be some content gurus like Rob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Corp., speaking. Hopefully this will all shed some light on whether or not RBOCs can “do” the content thing. Lunch at Spago, anyone?

There’s a requisite CTO panel, most of which consist of merger-bound RBOC CTOs. The question here is, with half the CTOs involved in either mergers or potential mergers, which lame-duck CTOs should we believe? Subhead for this panel: "RBOC CTOs: Who’ll Get Sacked Next?”

Those of us seeking diversity can head on over to the DiversityNext seminar to listen to Ken Solomon, Chairman and CEO of the Tennis Channel. If there’s a better spokesman for diversity than Ken Solomon of the Tennis Channel, I can’t think of one.

Joking aside, I do hope the TelecomNext crew proves me wrong. I hope there are some big deals at this show. I hope there are new visions of how all this merger activity is going to accelerate the deployment of fiber, broadband wireless, and all sorts of new exciting communications applications.

I hope the USTA can prove to us it's not a stodgy, uptight lobbyist organization with an axe to grind.

I hope to hear some sort of ideas for how we can create interesting new tiers of broadband service, without creating walled gardens that blunt the power of the Internet. (See Crocodile Tiers.)

I hope we hear that we’re not returning to the ages when telecom consisted of singular bureaucratic monopolies.

I hope that after writing this column, they still let me into the press room.

TelecomNext and the USTA: Show us what you got!

— R. Scott Raynovich, Editor in Chief, Light Reading

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