Alliance Breaks the Bottleneck

In todays opening session, CompTel/ASCENT Alliance CEO H. Russell Frisby Jr. will reignite the associations Break the Bottleneck campaign and call for member participation in an Alliance-led strategy designed to underscore the importance of competitive telecommunications markets to consumers and the nations economy.

CompTel first launched Break the Bottleneck in 2000, with the intent to mobilize the competitive industry on an unprecedented scale. Within a year, the effort resulted in more than 30,000 letters to Congressional lawmakers, and had generated thousands of e-mails, phone call and visits to Capitol Hill and district offices around the country.

The campaign proved successful with one of its purposes — to stop the Tauzin-Dingell bill, thereby protecting the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which celebrated its eighth anniversary yesterday.

But despite that triumph, competitive providers still face a number of other bottlenecks, Frisby says. Despite our best efforts, the Bells are still up to the same old tricks, trying to deny competitors access to needed parts of the network, using their monopoly power to raise wholesale prices to freeze competitors out of the market, and spending billions of dollars to avoid competition rather than investing in their networks and bringing innovative new services to the marketplace.

Whats more frightening now, Frisby adds, is the Bells are trying to exert their control on services beyond their historic voice offerings. Given broadband freedoms by the FCC in the Triennial Review, the Bells are poised to create log jams in the Internet world by restricting access to broadband networks and refusing to provide DSL to customers who purchase voice services from other providers.

2004 promises to be a pivotal year for the continued development of competition and the potential positive economic impact that could have. [We] cant let our guard down, Frisby says. the competitive industry has invested too much — entrepreneurial spirit, time, capital to sit back and watch as the Bells try to re-establish their monopoly.

He says the Alliance plans to go full speed ahead this year to protect consumers rights and the ability for our member companies to provide them with the alternatives they desire and deserve.

One of the ways the Alliance already has influenced the new year is by hosting the first show under its combined name here in Anaheim. Alliance officials say the show features 140 companies in the exhibit hall and will welcome a likely record number of attendees. Beyond the scope of the Alliance, Frisby points out that since 2004 is an election year, presidential politics could play a role on whether certain telecom concerns are addressed in Congress and/or become hot-button issues intended to sway voters.

Court decisions also affect the year ahead. For example, in January, the Supreme Court, in Verizon Communications v. Trinko, ruled in favor of regional phone companies. Frisby says he is disappointed by the ruling, but not completely discouraged, as it doesnt foreclose on other potential antitrust claims. The FCC also will be a key agent during 2004, as it looks at issues that directly impact our members business, Frisby says. From broadband deployment to voice over IP; from wholesale pricing to access charges — the rules — or lack thereof — could have a significant impact on the varying business models our members employ and their ability to serve a wide variety of customers, he says. Combined, these events could swing the pendulum of momentum that for the last year or so has been pointing toward a comeback of the telecommunications industry.

Frisby says FCC chairmans deregulatory approach only fuels the Bells desire to gain more control over every aspect of telecommunications. Leading the way to combat the bottleneck situation will be Richard Burk and Ron Harden, CompTel/ASCENTs co-chairmen, as they kick off the Break the Bottleneck campaign by signing a pledge to support the Alliances endeavors to promote local competition and urging fellow members to take part. During the convention and expo, attendees can sign the Break the Bottleneck pledge at a kiosk just outside the entrance to the exhibit hall.

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