ALEC, which is mostly an escort service for corporations and state lawmakers, is going national on this matter. Its member company AT&T filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year calling for a nationwide upgrade of communications networks. That would involve replacing more of the existing copper infrastructure with fiber-optic cable over several years. AT&T wants such changes be tested in different pilot programs across the U.S. Earlier in the month, a FCC task force charged with looking into the issue agreed, proposing the agency conduct select trials.
No one is doubting that fiber networks are better. They provider faster broadband service, clearer voice service and video programming. But there is small print with big repercussions for the public on this issue. Under existing law, AT&T, Verizon and other phone companies formerly part of the nation's Bell system need to allow competitors access to the copper network so they too can provide service. That obligation would go away with a fiber network.
As Bruce Kushnick, executive director of the New Networks Institute, details in his recent Huffington Post column:
AT&T and the telcos keep talking about free markets and competition, when, in fact, one of the goals of this transition is to close down the rights of all competitors currently using the networks. In fact, AT&T's plan has been to get the government to protect their business by writing laws to block competitors.
In August, 2012, AT&T wrote that the FCC should eliminate any requirements or obligations on AT&T and the local phone companies and remove the rights of competitors to rent the networks at wholesale rates.Other consumer protections would disappear. Requirements that AT&T and other landline phone companies serve all customers in their territories would be removed. So would many customer service regulations. And state regulatory commissions that have had oversight of these telephone companies for decades would lose much of their role. The result? Higher prices and less consumer protections.
The petition also discounts all the gains that have been made to improve copper networks. Many competitive telecom companies have been able to ramp up Internet speeds over the existing infrastructure through technological innovations. Copper networks are also more reliable during bad weather and natural disasters because they can provide phone service even if a home or business loses power.
There is still time for concerned citizens to contact the FCC and tell them not to allow ALEC and telecom big-wigs to dictate policy that will hurt the public. Let the agency know that consumers count!