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U.S. cities explore changing role in telecommunications.

The world of communications technologies is transforming itself at an exponential rate. Each day, telephone, cable, satellite, data and cellular companies are at work developing new applications for their products, forging new partnerships and hurdling new regulatory barriers.

What should a local elected official's role be in this changing environment?

In most cases, for cities, it will mean maintaining traditional functions of regulation, planning, and oversight in these areas, but it can also mean tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurial activities in this area. Smart local governments are studying ways that telecommunications, computers and video services can work to their advantage in order to fight crime, educate their children, and generate new business.

Today, cities are making great strides in the regulatory and technical worlds of telecommunications.


For the past four years, cable television has dominated NLC's communications policy and legislative agenda. Grass roots lobbying efforts and communications policy recommendations focused on cities' efforts to reign in cable companies that continued to raise rates while offering substandard customer service.

Last October, NLC was successful in lobbying Congress to approve the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. This comprehensive cable legislation promises, among other things, federal customer service standards and rate regulation where there is no effective competition. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held twenty five separate rule-makings for the development of national cable standards as mandated by the Act.

Cities will soon be taking on new regulatory responsibilities for the basic level of cable television service (see NATOA article in this Special Report).

Computer Technologies:


Because telecommunications technologies are changing and advancing at an incredible rate, there has developed a corresponding interest in the regulatory and public policy issues by cities and towns across the nation. One particular area of interest is in the growing blend of computer science and telecommunications that is currently sweeping the nation.

These new computer technologies have already been put to great use by the private sector in serving their local, national; and international clients more effectively. Cities can also use these technologies to respond to their citizens more quickly and efficiently. Whether it is as simple as a fax machine, or as complex as a network of applications such as information kiosks, municipal video programming, and computer on-line systems, many cities are beginning to see the advantages of investing in "high-tech" assistance.

Telecommuting is just one example of the growing use of these new technologies. In Southern California, over 950 employees "telecommute" under the sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Telecommuting Project. This multi-departmental program has resulted in increased job satisfaction, decreased stress, decreased numbers of employees on workers compensation, lower costs to employees for clothing, food, dry cleaning, and greater opportunities for the handicapped - in addition to the obvious reduction in commute time, cost and frustration.

Information Superhighways

It is estimated in a report entitled "Mandate for Change", written by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), (a subdivision of the Democratic Leadership Council which President Clinton chaired prior to his election), that U.S. productivity and national output would be increased by "over $300 billion by the year 2010" if an "information superhighway" were created by replacing copper telecommunication wires with fiber optics. Such a fiber optic network would mix video, voice, text, and data transmissions, turning the family television set into an interactive "telecomputer."

New federal legislation could provide guidelines to encourage public-private partnerships and intra-industry joint ventures, but cities must be ready to participate in this process.

The time is right for making telecommunications issues a high priority for our nation's cities and towns. Telecommunications and information technology will be major factors in defining the global future.

Policy Interests and


Often Cross Paths

Telecommunications policy is one of the primary roles of NLC's standing Policy committee on Transportation and Communications (T&C). NLC's other policy units, however, have overlapping interests in some cases

For the T&C Committee, in 1993 the primary goals have been:

* defining the role for local governments in developing the new telecommunications infrastructure;

* regionalization - partnerships with other cities;

* public-private partnerships for delivery of telecommunications infrastructure and services;

* federal finding for local telecommunications projects that link new technologies to regional economic development;

* information technologies - development and ownership of local computerized data; and

* computerized management: "City as Enterprise."

Telecommunications Policy Implications

Finance, Administration, and Intergovernmental Relations:

* New computerized systems of accounting and administration are more efficient, yet may require new types of policy guidelines.

Community and Economic Development:

* Retraining U.S. labor for high tech fields ad large-scale manufacturing is on its way out and will pay less.

* Cities can install computerized systems to track businesses for retention and expansion.

Energy, Environment and Natural Resources:

* Environmental computerized data and its uses transfer to other cities with similar problems

* Telecommuting: Computers at home mean less pollution from auto exhausts. Potential environmental impacts from telecomm equipment and use.

Human Development:

* Education: Cable in the Classroom, Distance Learning

* Crime: Telephone/computer hook-ups for gun purchases, electronic tags for home incarceration.
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Title Annotation:includes related information on telecommunications policy
Author:Ferrera, Anna Pulido
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 30, 1993
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