Do you hear what I hear?
The FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made a statement today that makes me wonder what took them so long.
In 1997 I spent some time lobbying at the Minnesota Legislature and the Minnesota Public Utilities commission about the differences between a data connection and data communications. The differences may seem plainly obvious to those of us in the Internet / Cable / Telephone industries, but for those milling around on the hill, they can’t quite grasp the difference between a carrier pigeon and the message tied to it’s leg. This analogy was too esoteric for those who were approaching dementia so I changed the analogy to a letter carried by a postal service. They seemed to understand that governments should regulate the postal service, but not the contents of the letter. You tell me, which part of that analogy resembles a connection and which resembles information? Pretty obvious, huh?
While it has been obvious for a long time that a telecommunication service is HOW you connect, I think the codgers on the hill got fouled up in the language. The word telecommunication contains that magic word, communication. When you hear communication, you immediately think of what you DO with a voice service, a cable television service or the Internet. But we in the industry all know that the Internet, voice, cable television, or anything you DO with a telecommunications service is an information service.
We all use telecommunications services AND information services everyday. Honestly, it’s difficult to think of a reason to have a telecommunications service without an information service laid on top of it. I admit that they are so closely tied together that most often you need one to utilize the other. But there are so many methods of delivering information services that there really is a need for separation.
And that’s how we buy most of our services. We buy an Internet LINK/PORT and we buy Internet BANDWIDTH. These are two line items on one invoice. Sounds like the telecommunications companies already realize these are separately regulated items.
Way back in 2002 the FCC ruled that cable modem service was an information service. This was dismaying to many ISPs. Cable companies could legally block ISPs from delivering Internet on cable networks and this new ruling spelled out a path for the ILECs to shut the ISPs out of the DSL / high-speed Internet access market too! And that’s exactly what happened.
Today Qwests third generation DSL offering is FTTN DSL, with dramatically higher connection speeds than the prior Qwest DSL offerings. That’s a mixed blessing for consumers. If consumers really want faster speed for their Internet access and want to stay on DSL, they have but 1 choice, buy from Qwest. Consumers must buy a bundled telecommunications service and information service from Qwest if they want the higher DSL speeds. Sadly, that means customers who want to remain loyal to ipHouse cannot.
Prior to 2002 consumers had dozens of ISPs to choose from. Those same ISPs have been squeezed out of the market by a simple “reclassification” of broadband by the FCC. Today, if you listen closely you can hear ISPs across the country rejoice at the thought of being able to buy connections again if the FCC is successful at retracing it’s steps. It might take another 8 years or even longer, but I think that progress is worth waiting for.