9 April 1999 <- Please do not remove this date or distribute this document after 13 April 1999 in order to help reduce spam on the Internet.
Please pass this on to everyone you know before then. Maybe we can make a difference in the very few days left before this goes to the vote.
If you think of the big long distance providers and Bell companies as dinosaurs (as most of us do) and the Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as mammals, the mammals have been eating the Dinosaurs eggs for years. They do it by providing better service at competitive prices and because they exist, the Bells have not been able to push up prices the way they would like to, in order to cover "the cost" of providing advanced services. Despite the fact that ISPs and CLECs are earning their money in consumer and business markets, the Bellheads and Cable head-ends are crying "cherry-picking" because the smaller outfits don't run the wires they're serving customers from. Of course, the FCC did rule that the Bell companies had to allow CLECs and ISPs to use the cable infrastructure, as the Bells own the rights of way. But that seems to have been forgotten in the lates feeding frenzy. The Bells don't like or appreciate competition, so most CLECs are still prevented from connecting to Bell networks, drowned in the sometimes strange rules and requirements the Bells have imposed prior to providing connectivity, and of course delayed by the years it is taking the Bells to make the "necessary upgrades" to their systems to allow others to connect to them.
AT&T barred from local telephone competition, noticed that cable profits today are not regulated, and that cable franchises are changing hands based on their potential value as Internet suppliers rather than for their value as providers of cable television. AT&T bought TCI and explained to the FCC that they have spent billions to compete with phone monopolies for Internet access over cable and will need to spend billions more to upgrade the cable for the provision of Internet, why should they share? The Federal Communications Commission, reckoning that Internet access is important (it is) has bought their arguments - at least for now. Never mind that the cable franchises were granted by local governments, monopolies designed to be regulated. Has the FCC forgotten, or did they never know, or do they just not care, that the provision of telephone services over cable is neither difficult nor expensive. Especially when providing a digital interface to deliver Internet facilities anyway. So the Bell companies have just seen AT&T dodge around them to connect directly to the end-users-while the Bell companies are still buying long distance access from AT&T.
The Bell companies know all this. And they are mad. Did I mention that the Bell companies don't like or appreciate competition? Oh, I did. Well, it is worth remembering. You do know that the Bell companies have real money, don't you? The nice people representing us in Washington certainly know that the Bell companies have money. Oh yes, they do! Not only do the nice people in Washington know the Bells have money, they would like to get their hands on some of it. Especially those poor, poor people running in those really, really expensive presidential campaigns. There are rules against this, but as the Chinese proved with President Clinton, not only are the rules easy to bypass, politicians can be bought really cheaply. I guess the Bell companies know this too.
Well we all know that we want high-speed access at a reasonable cost. To ensure the cost is reasonable we need competition. We also know that the FCC and FTC decided that AT&T deserves a monopoly on cable access, and we know how effective monopolies are at keeping prices down. Right? What is the competition? ADSL via your telephone line. To receive an ADSL service, all that happens is that you install an ADSL modem at your end of the line and the Telco plugs a line card into the existing switch. But through some magic, the Bell companies are arguing that this comprises an "advanced service" and that having provided it, they do not need to provide access to anyone else. I told you they did not like competition, didn't I?
So lets pretend that we are a Bell company and take a peek around Washington for presidential candidates that might be able to help us in the war against all these mice nibbling away at the margins. Would the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and sub-committee on telecommunications, be helpful. Hmm, maybe. Who is he? A Senator from Arizona and running as presidential candidate in the GOP's money primary! Just what the Bell’s need. John McCain, Republican Senator from Arizona and one of “the 25 most influential people in the United States” according to Times Magazine. He could prove really useful to the Bell companies.
What is Senator McCain saying these days? Well, surprise, surprise (not really), McCain believes that one good monopoly deserves another. AT&T having bought TCI doesn't need to provide any-one access to the cable. So now the Bell companies are asking why they should have to provide access to CLECs and ISPs? And it seems that Senator McCain agrees with them. His proposed "Internet Regulatory Freedom Act of 1999" says that Bell companies would no longer have to let competitors into their "upgraded" networks. This sell-out is of course buried in very obscure legal jargon, but the relevant clause prohibits FCC mandates on "wholesale discount obligations on bulk offerings of advanced services".
Putting it simply, there's a hearing scheduled on this bill April 13, in the Senate's Russell Office Building. If this bill passes into law as it stands, we could move from today's 7,000 ISPs and 100 CLECs to maybe 5 of each in the next five years. In terms of Internet and phone access, you'll probably have a choice of two - the cable or the phone monopoly in your neighborhood. The duopoly will charge higher prices and make higher profits than anyone in the business can dream of today. Part of that higher price you will pay will find its way into helping your good representatives in Washington pay the huge sums they need to expend in getting elected and staying popular. At least, staying popular with the monopolies they seem to be so friendly with.
If you don't like this idea, why not drop your governor, congressman and senator a line (follow these links for their addresses http://www.house.gov/writerep/ and http://www.senate.gov/ ) and especially send the presidential hopeful, Senator McCain, a line at John_McCain@McCain.senate.gov. His Web page is at http://www.senate.gov/~mccain/ .
Of course, you can call them too! The house and senate directories are also on-line at the above addresses. Can we block their switchboards?