Cable and Broadband v. Copper

Received this article in an email at work. 

Congress has asked the Federal Communications Commission to develop a national policy for broadband deployment. But it may be more important to think through how the country will handle the aging and increasingly less relevant copper phone network.

While I have to agree with most of what Saul Hansell (the reporter) writes, I’m glad that the US is at least developing an official policy for broadband.  Since there are no regulations in place to legislate broadband voice service, the cable and IP companies like Vonage and Cablevision don’t suffer under the same restrictions imposed on the telcos.  It gives them an unfair advantage in what’s already a cutthroat industry (and, as the article effectively portrays, one whose once-solid business is now on decidedly shaky ground).  Even if the official policy is designed to promote broadband to consumers, setting ground rules for the cablecos to follow certainly can’t hurt.

Telephone companies need to invest in new infrastructure if they want to be competitive with cable and IP, and that means replacing old copper lines with fiber optics.  The problem is finding money to invest in a diminishing business (inevitably, as wireless strengthens its hold on the north american market); for investors it seems counter-intuitive to pour millions of dollars into a new, more reliable landline network for a legacy service that doesn’t promise a return on investment.  Up here for instance, TELUS has no problem finding funds to develop its 3G mobile network, but when the notion of revamping its existing landline infrastructure is quietly brought up it always gets firmly quashed.   

If the telcos can’t find a way to compete, I’m afraid Hansell’s prediction may come true:

What good will it do for the F.C.C. to come up with a spiffy new plan to get faster, cheaper broadband to more people if the phone companies fail and millions of people won’t be able to dial 911 in an emergency?

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