Telecommunications carriers said theyll cooperate with police to help catch terrorists, but wont spend buckets of new money to upgrade security or revamp infrastructure until they get regulatory relief.
"Until we see a lessening of the regulatory burden," all the talk in Congress about building a stronger and more secure infrastructure rings hollow, said Arne "Skip" Haynes, incoming chairman of the U.S. Telecom Association, which primarily represents the regional Bells and other incumbent carriers. "We cannot continue to invest in critical infrastructure when our market capitalization is so devalued."
The USTA said federal regulations are dampening the value of most of its member companies because they keep prices too low for telecom carriers to compete with one another or with cable companies.
The paradox, of course, is that Congress attention on Sept. 11 swung away from easing regulations for the Bells and toward legislation requiring all service providers to do and spend more to help monitor terrorists communications.
At the USTAs 104th annual conference in Phoenix last week, members worried that they would be forced to install surveillance software for their switches and packet data networks under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 before they get any regulatory relief. The controversial law is unclear about what kinds of network traffic it covers.
But lawmakers aim to eliminate distinctions between the types of technology that terrorists might use to gather information or send messages, said Michael Warren, president of consulting firm Interception Compliance Systems and the former FBI chief of telecommunications compliance. So, laws that require telecom carriers to aid in wiretapping telephone conversations will likely extend to wireless, broadband and Internet communications, he said.
"What is a telecom carrier? Its going to be all of them - cable operators, resellers, Internet service providers," Warren said. "There is going to be less and less tolerance of any of these not complying."