The Great Broadband Regulatory Disconnect

In a page one story today, The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports on the various plans the U.S. telecommunications industry has toward merging the functions of separate telecommunications devices to accommodate seamless services ââ?¬â?? landline, wireless, Internet and cable TV. With the AT&T-SBC and Verizon-MCI mergers complete, the Journal article attempts to sort out the new landscape. Its starting point is to treat AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and Sprint as players competing in a single industry geared to meeting common service goalââ?¬â??consumer broadband services integration. All these companies, plus a growing cadre of competitors that include EarthLink and Google, are attempting to use their respective assets to bring together voice, Internet access, content and entertainment, plus portability, and do it in such a way that adds enormous value for the customer. As the idea of personal information technology moves from abstract concept to marketable reality, it is ever more clear that to work the way it is envisioned, it requires an unprecendented level of applications integration. In such an environment, emphasis on dominating individual services ââ?¬â?? be they phone, cable or wireless — risks marginalization. Success or failure in the broadband market well depend on how well a service provider can assemble a collection of desired applications and deliver them in such a way that the customer can choose where, when and how to use them. The problem is that current policy thinking, no matter how well intentioned, is aimed at inhibiting or preventing the very conditions that will allow success. That’s because conventional wisdom stubbornly, but wrongly, regards service and application consolidation as an undesirable outcome.