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Telecommunications issues at a crossroads: foresight and vision needed.

On November 19, federal, state and local telecommunications officials gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss regulatoril issues in light of the rapidly changing cable and telephone industries. Sponsored by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Annenberg Washington Program, the day-long program focused on infrastructure, universal service, and the division of regulatory functions among the three jurisdictions.

Panels on these issues included Susan Herman of Los Angeles and Brother Richard Emenecker of Pittsburgh. They followed opening statements by FCC Commissioner Andrew Barrett, NTIA Administrator Larry Irving, Congressman Jack Fields, and Idaho Public Utilities Commission Chairman Joe Miller. Delivering the opening statement for municipalities was Bill Squadron, president of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), an NLC affiliate. The text of his remarks follows.

"As the telecommunications landscape has changed, and is changing, so dramatically, government must also change. Regulatory frameworks crafted for historically segmented and monopolistic industries are outmoded for a competitive environment with multiple providers offering multiple services.

Perhaps more importantly, the existing regulatory construction is not well suited to effectively manage the transition to that new environment. If one took a snapshot today of the two markets that raise the most serious issues of regulatory structure--local telephony and cable television--it would still reveal overwhelmingly single-provider arenas with traditional service offerings. Such a snapshot might suggest that our current regulatory systems are adequate and appropriate.

But we are dealing not with a still photograph but a moving picture. The seeds of profound change have already yielded enough sprouts in enough locations that for government to cling to the existing framework on the basis of that snapshot would be short-sighted and potentially harmful to the public which awaits the fruits of the competitive telecommunications harvest.

And while the federal, state local levels of government have disagreed at times on policy directions, we all have at our core the same mission--to maximize the public's ability to benefit from the delivery of telecommunications products. Moreover, while specific details may still spark disagreement, virtually everyone is committed to a world in which business and residential consumers of telecommunications services realize the advantages of a vigorously competitive market.

Because of our mutual, fundamental goal of enhancing the public interest, we have a special responsibility to assure that governmental uncertainty or overlap--or worse, jurisdictional disputes--do not either delay the arrival of competition or impose unnecessary costs on companies and, by inevitable extension, on consumers. The moving picture is accelerating so rapidly that we cannot wait any longer to establish cooperatively the rules and institutional divisions to oversee both the transition to competition and the post-transition universe.

Several developments illustrate the immediacy of this issue. Early next year, both houses of congress will consider comprehensive infrastructure legislation that would, among other things, provide for an orderly unbottling of voice and video markets. While one should never predict with over-confidence what congress will do, many parties believe the prospects for passage of such legislation are quite good.

Part of that legislative debate will involve the roles of federal, state and local authorities. If we can present a consensus formulation of a sensible and efficient division of regulatory responsibilities for the landscape of the future, it will stand an excellent chance of inclusion in the legislation and produce the optimum result for the public.

Should anyone doubt that failing to design a mutually agreeable, sound framework will lead to uncertainly and difficulty, the FCC's creation of video dialtone service offers a glimpse into what an uncharted future would hold. Although envisioned as an alternative to cable service, video dialtone's common carrier nature persuaded the FCC to preempt local government authorization, contemplates federal tariffing, and permits a state role of some kind.

Apart from the legal foundation for this approach, it potentially represents a regulatory tangle. Telephony, of course, is principally regulated at the state level while cable is historically handled at the local level. We now face a scenario where competitive providers of video service conceivably could operate under different regulatory authorities and subject to different rules.

That is not a constructive approach because it creates confusion in the marketplace and, worse, uneven protection and rights for consumers. Nor is it constructive for federal officials to cite state recalcitrance, for states to refer to local barriers, for local authorities to criticize Washington's unawareness of life outside the beltway. What would be constructive is for each level of government to accept and respect the other's legitimate role, and to begin immediately a collaborative process to establish the proper allocation of regulatory functions for the future.

NATOA would support such an effort. NATOA members range from the largest cities in the country to towns like Mr. Prospect, Illinois, Burnsv[lie and Eggart, Minnesota, and Clinton, North Carolina, What the local telecommunications officials in' every community share is the desire to provide their citizens with modern services and to act as responsible trustees of public property. NATOA as an organization has strongly and consistently endorsed the vision of a competitive telecommunications market--including the entry of telephone companies into the video market under the right conditions-while insisting that community concerns be preserved and enhanced.

All over the nation, municipalities-small and large--are committed to ensuring that the multi-media and information. services opportunities on the horizon enhance their local economies and the personal lives of their citizens. My colleagues in NATOA, and the elected officials in our local government coalition-the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Association of Counties--daily confront the very practical needs and problems of our communities. Those concerns may be most pressing in health care, or education, or law enforcement, or social services.

Telecommunications advances are offering new ways to address these needs. NATOA's policies reflect the benefits that a robustly competitive market can generate, and endorse a regulatory system that facilitates entry by numerous providers into all markets. Our policies also recognize the need to couple reductions in regulation and streamlined entry with provisions that allow communities to benefit in ways that are meaningful to each community. It has long been axiomatic in the political jargon of Washington that, at some core level, everything is basically local-where we send out children to school, the streets where we live, the places where we work, the libraries, the hospitals, the parks. NATOA believes that a reformed regulatory system must combine the elimination of entry barriers and relaxed regulation with the means to assure that all communities--rural or urban, big or small, rich or poor-can participate meaningfully in this new era.

We also believe that the principles in the National Information Infrastructure's (NIl) Agenda for Action constitute an ideal substantive base for a collaborative effort to reform our regulatory system. Those principles should guide public policy for the foreseeable future, and our government structures should be configured to maximize their potential. NATOA recommends, therefore, that today's landmark conference be closely followed by working sessions at which representatives from the FCC, NARUC and NATOA develop a framework for a regulatory system tailored to the new telecommunications paradigm. That effort should use for substantive guidance the NIl principles and should seek NTIA's participation in the dialogue.

In bringing together the three levels of government today, NTIA and the Annenberg Washington Program have presented an extremely promising concept-that federal, state and local governments will cooperatively resolve jurisdictional questions, rather than struggle among ourselves. We should seize upon the opportunity they have presented, because that is where the public interest lies. And in a time when public/private partnerships are often so successful, we should be able to establish critical public/public partnerships."
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Title Annotation:text of speech by National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors President William F. Squadron
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Transcript
Date:Jan 3, 1994
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