article

Signs

Posted: 10/2003

Signs of the Times

Do you ever
wonder
how we got here? Not so much the chain of events leading up to this moment, but
why those events occurred in the first place? I do.

In my own life, I am comforted that self-inflicted and
external setbacks are indeed momentary and lead me to a better place than
before. Do I dare to hope that this should be true of the telecom industry? I
do.

It feels awfully naive to give written form to such hope, but
then again there have been many more critical struggles in American history that
were based on little else. Take womens suffrage or civil rights. These
succeeded because in the end they were fundamentally the right things to do.

With apologies to those who waged those fights, there are
parallels in the telecom markets fight against the establishment. Competing is the right thing to do. There has been more
forward motion in this industry and by connection other industries that
capitalize on our innovations in the last 17 years than in the previous
eighty. This was not born from the Bell system, but from the outside.

Many people have told me they are seeing signs of recovery in
telecom. Advertising support for this magazine, as another example,
continues to increase. Maybe they are heartened by the preservation of UNE-P as
dictated in the FCC order. (The UNE-P has been the basis for yet another
innovation as competitive companies have bundled it with other services to bring
consumers unlimited any-distance calling plans.)

This is good news but dimmed by
the shadow of a still uncertain regulatory future. For one, the FCC order calls
for nine months of state evaluations to determine whether competitive impairment
warrants the UNE-P to remain. In addition, lawsuits already have been filed. One
group of local telcos USTA et al has filed a petition to stop it taking
effect on Oct. 2.

While being hamstrung is no good for anyone, its certainly
most difficult for the smaller competitive providers whose futures hang in the
balance. They are not likely to attract investment or sizable customers
under such circumstances.

Its a very real possibility the courts could kick the order
back to the FCC where the process will start again. Meanwhile, the competitive providers will watch as the Bell
companies gobble up long-distance customers with their newly attained
out-of-region authority and figure out ways to pay the lawyers and the light
bills.

This is not to say competitors should give up the fight
for in that there is certain defeat. I fear, they unfortunately must soldier on
until a different political environment will allow the little guy to spend more
time gaining market traction and less time spinning his wheels.

KHALI HENDERSON

khenderson@vpico.com.
Editor in Chief


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