The regional bell operating companies won a major ally in their effort to clear out regulations governing the telephone industry. With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce heading a coalition calling for regulatory reform, the RBOCs have increased their leverage in a policy debate that could have dramatic implications for the future competitive landscape.
The coalition is called TeleConsensus, despite the fact that it doesnt represent an accord among the many arms of the telecommunications industry.
It unites several powerful lobby organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Electronic Industries Alliance, with Verizon Communications Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp.
Echoing several long-held RBOC positions, the coalition argues that the rules promoting competition in traditional land-line communications are no longer necessary now that cable companies, wireless companies and others are capable of delivering voice and data services.
In addition, it maintains that the country needs enhanced broadband infrastructure but that the current regulatory structure dissuades incumbent carriers from investing.
"When it comes to telecommunications, we mean business," said Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the chamber, in Washington. "We want a light regulation."
SMBs (small and midsize businesses) are growing increasingly concerned that the race to deregulate the telephone industry could result in fewer suppliers and higher prices.
"Wireless is kind of in its infancy as a product. In rural Vermont it is simply not an alternative," said J.B. Elliott, president and CEO of Woodstone Co., a window manufacturer in Westminster, Vt. "Im not sure I would trust my business communications to cable."
Woodstone has purchased voice and data services from Sovernet Inc., a CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier) based in Bellows Falls, Vt., for four years, Elliott said.
The Chamber of Commerce is prepared to spend as much as $500,000 annually to get its message across on Capitol Hill, Donohue said.