In a move that will likely spell the death of many independent ISPs, the Federal Communications Commission recently decided to free telephone companies from requirements to open their broadband lines to rival ISPs.
After the U.S. Supreme Court freed cable companies from similar requirements in June, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made it clear that he would attempt to put DSL and cable modem operators on a level playing field by declassifying DSL, a move we opposed in this space, out of concern that it would foster a string of cable and Baby Bell duopolies.
Since its too late for the FCC to change its mind about declassifying DSL, we must insist on results for the sake of enterprise telecommunications users. Telephone companies have long claimed that declassification would be an incentive that allowed them to improve broadband technologies and build out networks. Now that the FCC has granted them their wish, the telephone companies must make good on their promises and improve broadband access.
As FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps has said, the consequences of this new policy must match the intended results. "The order is far from ideal," Copps said. "We take the dramatic step of reclassifying DSL in order to spur broadband deployment and to help consumers. I want to test that proposition a year from now."
We agree. Major policy changes call for vigilance and follow-through. The Bush administration, which is focused on boosting broadband use in the United States, must ensure that competition between cable companies and phone companies actually thrives and results in widespread broadband service at lower prices.
Chairman Martin said prices are best determined by consumers, not regulators. Without further monitoring of the market, though, we could easily wind up with more inflated prices for broadband with no substantial improvements in the service level. The government needs to make sure that its goal of cheaper, better broadband access is reached by keeping a close eye on the telephone companies.
Although the FCCs move will put intense pressure on smaller ISPs, larger ISPs should continue to aggressively explore alternative broadband transmission technologies. Longer-term prospects for competition, for example, may lie in WiMax and power-line technologies. Indeed, Earthlink, the largest ISP, has been developing WiMax service offerings in some areas.
We have previously encouraged in this space IT administrators to begin exploring WiMax options for their enterprises, and we continue to believe thats a wise course to follow.
As far as the FCC is concerned, the agency must monitor these developments and must take appropriate regulatory action to keep America moving toward more reliable, more affordable and more widely available broadband Internet access.
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