However, in voting against the decision, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said that it "constitutes an ominous precedent for the small-business community" and that it doesnt "bode well for independent providers of VOIP [voice over IP] services. Monopoly control of the last mile created all kinds of problems for basic telephone service in the last century, and now we seem bent on replicating that sad story for advanced services in the digital age."
Over the next two years, the RBOCs goal is to convince policy-makers that the existence of budding technologies and applications demonstrates a competitive marketplace and a reason to eliminate the rules requiring them to share networks with rivals.
"The difference today is that competition is here," said Herschel Abbott, vice president of governmental affairs at BellSouth Corp., in Atlanta. "Were losing lines. But ... regulation keeps us from making investments we would otherwise make."
Some say that the RBOCs are crying wolf, that deregulation is no guarantee that the rate of investment will rise and that network upgrades will continue to take place at a steady pace, with or without deregulation of the local facilities.
"They are investing," Greg Douglass, vice president at Cap Gemini Telecom Media and Networks U.S. Inc., in Irving, Texas, said about the RBOCs strategy. "They will be packet[-based] in 15 years, come hell or high water."
One factor that regulators and lawmakers will consider next year is that the telephone companies have won a lobbying ally in the cable industry. The industries have teamed to convince policy-makers that they are peers in building new high-speed broadband networks but are besieged by newcomers eager to poach their investments.
At the RBOCs annual gathering this fall, Brian Roberts, president and CEO of the largest cable company, Comcast Cable Communications Inc., assured telephone companies of the new partnership. "All of us who invest in competitive facilities need to stand together ... and we need to get our public officials to understand why its bad policy," Roberts said.
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