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Telecommunications can lead us out of the recession.

Telecommunications can lead us out of the recession--if we let it and if we take advantage of recent developments.

"Distance education" is the new phrase for linking students electronically, off-campus.

"Rural competitiveness" is finally a viable concept--not two disparate words.

"Fundamental unbundling" of telecomm common carrier services is progressing rapidly.

Telecomm users and vendors have weathered some tough times in the past two years, and more difficult months may lie ahead. There are more expansionary trends, however, in telecommunications than in any other business activity.

Distance education is an outstanding example of a telecommunications revolution coming to higher education campuses. The Wall Street Journal, in a front-page article September 13, 1991, headlined this technique, "Electronic Links to Recast the Campus." It reported, ". . .technology is toppling the ivory tower. Whether by satellite, videocassette or telephone line, instruction can now be delivered literally to student's doorsteps."

The Journal article claims the part-time students now account for about half of total college enrollments, and remote facilities can be delivered to their doorstep. Entire degrees off-campus are less common but increasing every year.

Finally, the Journal quotes the president of the University of Main at Augusta, "We can reach 2,000 day-care workers simultaneously with one hour of (off-campus) training a week. We don't have to move people anymore--we just move signals. These are the superhighways of the 21st century."

Last week, October 30 - November 1, the Appalachian Regional Commission with the Tennessee Valley Authority, sponsored a conference in Knoxville, Tenn., with the theme, "Telecommunications: Connections for Rural Competitiveness."

Their message to attendees was, "Learn how telecommunications can improve services and policy choices; learn of telecommunication solutions to aid job growth, i.e., smart parks, telecottages and multi-tenanted telework centers; form telecommunications partnerships with governments and communities to develop solutions to public policy problems; and learn how to use telecommunications as an economic development tool."

We have all been brainwashed for decades with the message that the telecomm revolution has bypassed rural areas. That's rubbish! Some of the most sophisticated local exchange carriers in the industry are equipped to provide more services to business and residential subscribers at lower cost--often much lower--than urban carrier.

The telecomm advancements in urban areas are more change oriented than growth oriented. And that change is most prominent in the unbundling of the network and the trend to competition in the local exchange.

I read recently a copy of an address by Janice Obuchowski, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, to a conference at the George Washington University School of Government & Business Administration. The address was titled, "Competition in the Local Exchange." She covered the development in California of a state price cap plan for local exchange carriers, the deregulation of many telecomm services in numerous states, and fundamental unbundling in many states with collocated and central office interconnection for alternative carriers.

She speaks disparingly of the complex system of hidden subsidies that still exist and presents a strong argument for open, public, explicit subsidies in local, instrastate services.

She made this profound statement: "Explicit subsidies promote openness and informed public debate. Hidden subsidies encourage the kinds of things that grow in the dark; I think of them as the moldy basements of our economy. The public cannot intelligently assess the merits of any subsidy until the system enables us to learn how large the subsidies are, who they are going to, and where they are coming from."

Telecomm can lead the parade out of recession IF WE LET IT! That means reducing and eliminating, as quickly as possible, regulatory constraints and allowing a free, competitive market to operate.

I can understand vendor fighting among themselves to keep restraints on competitors. I cannot understand users pushing for increased regulation when competition in telecomm has been the greatest development in their professional lives.

Compare the overall telecomm system in the United States with other countries where total government control (regulation) has existed forever. There is no comparison.

We've profiled from more enlightened management and oversight in this country. Let's continue to keep out of the way, to allow the market to work, and allow telecomm to spearhead technical development and full economic prosperity by taking maximum advantage of advancements like distance education and rural competitiveness.

Augie Blegen is a telecommunications consultant and executive director of the Association of Data Communications Users, Inc., P.O. Box 38578, Bloomington, MN 55438, 612-881-6803.
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Title Annotation:Datacomm User
Author:Blegen, August
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:732
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