Friday, February 12, 2010

Public policy collides with business interests of telco/cable duopoly

According to Oakland, Calif.-based consultant Craig Settles, the Obama administration's stated policy goal of broadband access for all Americans is colliding with the narrower economic interest of the legacy telephone and cable companies. That conflict is playing out within the context of the administration's economic stimulus legislation that was signed into law almost one year ago.

Settles points to an estimated 9,000 challenges and protests the incumbents brought against proposed projects seeking more than $4 billion in infrastructure subsidies set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The challenges are being raised under a broadband black hole preservation clause in rules two federal agencies wrote to govern allocation of the subsidies that allows incumbents to protest proposed projects on the grounds they already provide advanced telecommunications services in the area proposed to be served.

The telcos and cable companies want to preserve what they regard as their exclusive franchises for a given "service territory" even though their business models don't allow them to construct the infrastructure necessary to bring advanced telecommunications services to all homes and businesses that need (and try to order) them.

This is the crux of the clash between the business interests of the telco/cable duopoly and public policy that will clearly have to be expeditiously resolved by the Obama administration and Congress if the subsidies are to function as intended. As Settles put it in an article appearing earlier this week in USA Today: "We're at a point where it's the general public's interest vs. the entrenched incumbents."

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