Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Two emerging alternatives to the telco/cable duopoly

AT&T and Comcast are like the big kids on the block prone to bragging and boasting about what they can or are going to do. Ma Bell boasts she's rolling out Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) including HD channels. Comcast says it's introducing digitial voice telephone service in addition to its TV programming and high speed Internet (HSI) services.

Behind the braggadocio, however, there exists a far different and less boastful reality. Fully one fifth or more of AT&T customers can't even get broadband Internet access over Ma Bell's aging copper cable system let alone IPTV. They're told to suck it up and get by with sluggish, impractical dial up connections running at 24kbs or plunk down hundreds of dollars and pay too much for too little from a satellite provider.

The story's the same for many would be Comcast customers who don't happen to reside where Comcast currently provides service. The big cable company doesn't appear to be expanding its service areas, calling into question its strategy of going head to head with the telcos for telephone service. Comcast can't compete with the telcos if it doesn't penetrate their service areas.

The situation won't change unless local governments and/or public utility districts partner with companies with expertise in installing and operating fiber optic-based infrastructure that can form the basis for open access telecommunications networks.

Without these local endeavors, the alternative is back to the future -- a 1984-style federal government ordered break up of the telco/cable duopoly, only this time in combination with a government takeover of the nation's telecommunications system on the principle that it is vital infrastructure that can't be left to the whims of monopolistic private sector providers.

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