SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER
July 4, 1999
©1999 San Francisco Examiner
As a longtime consumer advocate, I've seen my share of corporate hypocrisy. The current attempt by two of the nation's biggest monopolies and the Internet's top gatekeeper to force regulation on the emerging market for high-speed Internet access, however, takes the cake.
Calling themselves the "No Gatekeepers Coalition," SBC Communications Inc., GTE Corp. and America Online have been engaged in a massive lobbying campaign to convince federal, state and local officials that AT&T should be required to provide its competitors with access to the broadband cable modem system it plans to deploy.
SBC, which owns Pacific Bell, and GTE are the very same companies that have maintained monopoly control of local phone service by using every regulatory and legal trick in the book to avoid opening their own networks to competitors - as they were mandated to do three years ago when Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
These longtime monopolists have now allied themselves with AOL, an Internet service provider renowned for making it as difficult as possible for customers to get onto the Internet through its proprietary portal.
By couching this lobbying effort as a call for open access, these corporate "gatekeepers" have managed to convince a few local officials and consumer groups that they are pro-consumer.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In my opinion, SBC and GTE are among the worst abusers of consumer rights in the country.
Both of these companies have for years had the technical ability to offer high-speed Internet access, and have, in fact, been ordered to open their networks to competitors. If SBC and GTE were truly interested in high-speed open access to the Internet, their own networks would be fully open to competitors by now and consumers would already have a wide choice of high-speed Internet access options.
Instead, they waited until competition developed via broadband cable modems and then demanded that government regulate the new technology. This is nothing more than a ploy to slow down competition for both Internet access and local phone service.
Here are some facts that consumers and government officials should consider:
There is already vigorous competition for high-speed Internet access. Nearly every day there are new reports about deals being made to offer high-speed access via cable, DSL, satellite, or wireless technology.
In "Building A Broadband America: The Competitive Keys to the Future of the Internet," economists Lee Selwyn, Patricia Kravtin and Scott Coleman conclude that, "Competition is fully capable of delivering the telecommunications services in all parts of the country that Americans need and want."
Competition is already beginning to drive down the price of services to consumers. At a recent Legislative hearing in Sacramento, Senator Debra Bowen noted that Pacific Bell and GTE dropped the price of their high-speed DSL service from $89.95 to $39.95 after Redwood City-based AtHome introduced competition via high-speed cable modem - for $39.95.
Without government regulation, the Internet has evolved rapidly, and literally every day there are new services, goods and opportunities available to consumers. Compare this to the telecommunications industry, where regulation has clearly failed to open local phone service to competition.
If the so-called "open access" advocates succeed in getting local, state, and federal officials to regulate cable Internet access, consumers can expect a similarly long wait for high-speed cable Internet access.
It is not surprising that the monopolist phone companies are using pro-consumer rhetoric to justify government regulation that would delay competition, limit choice, and ensure their continued domination of the market. They have been doing this for years. It's time they were stopped, and they will be if our elected officials keep their hands off the Internet.
© 1999 San Francisco Examiner, Page D5
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