Why Our Phones and Internet Are Being Threatened by a Big Telecom Privatization Scheme
Continued from previous page
TAC’s stated goal is to close down the PSTN. At a December 2011 meeting, it announced: “The FCC should take steps to prepare for the inevitable transition from the PSTN … .” In addition, it argues: “As the number of subscribers on the PSTN falls, the cost per remaining customer increases and the overall burden of maintaining the PSTN becomes untenable.”
To appreciate how the FCC shell game works, one has to understand how, over the last decade, the concept of communications has been redefined.
During the last century, each state had a phone company that was a “utility.” Like roads, water or even electricity, it was understood that in order to supply phone service to everyone, everyone needed to be wired, whether businesses, schools or residential customers. The Communications Act of 1934 established, guaranteed that everyone was to get phone service. The telecom utility was conceived as “public” service.
The “public” communications network, the PSTN, was built on a copper wire infrastructure and the principle services it supported were called “POTS,” plain old telephone service, voice communications. However, starting in the 1980s, “data services” like fax to online services were added.
Starting in the 1990s, this copper wire infrastructure was supposed to be replaced with fiber optic running digital 1s and 0s. Nevertheless, much of the existing telecom infrastructure, especially what is known as the “last mile” (the segment that includes a person’s in-home wiring and landline hookup to the network), remains copper. This is primarily because the telecom duopoly, Verizon and AT&T, hasn’t upgraded the network. By 1996, when the latest Communications Act was passed, it was clear that the telecom infrastructure, especially the last mile, had become the duopoly’s toll road.
During Michael Powell’s tenure as FCC chairman (2001-2005, the George W. Bush administration), the agency institutionalized a dubious, if critical, distinction that has become seminal to the on-going privatization of 21st-century telecom. Under Powell, traditional telecom was broken into two distinct service sectors, “information” and “communications.” The distinction was originally intended to distinguish between “the wire” or transport and “the content” or voice service.
Under Powell, the FCC collapsed the two categories with the result that the distinction became one without a real difference, a form of hypocrisy. The agency’s goal was to further promote the privatization of telecom, defining an increasing number of Internet and broadband operations as “information” services.
In its 2001 “New Jersey Infrastructure Report,” Verizon of New Jersey exposed the fiction at the root of the distinction. It made clear that it operates one network, not separate networks for “communications” and “information”:
By integrating a number of services on a single network, Verizon NJ will continue to make optimum use of our service delivery capabilities. The evolution to the full service ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] based switched broadband network will increase significantly the efficiency of serving New Jersey through automated provisioning and activation processes, increase capacity availability, and result in an even more flexible delivery platform. Verizon NJ’s integrated network of switches, transmission facilities and operating systems provides New Jersey’s residential and business communities with a technologically advanced telecommunications infrastructure that is ready, willing and able to act as the on-ramp to the Information Highway.
In 2001, the telecom trust was still speaking about delivering Al Gore’s Info Superhighway. Now, two decades after Gore proclaimed it, the telecom trust that received billions of dollars through rate increases and tax subsidies and has have failed to delivery the 21st-century Info-Highway.
Nevertheless, the distinction between communications and information lives on, enabling the FCC to further deregulate, increase rates and eliminate competition. And the chief beneficiaries of such deregulation are none other than the dominant telecom duopoly of AT&T and Verizon and the giant MSOs (multiple system operators) led by Comcast. Which brings us back to the current Technical Advisory Committee.