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Steve Forbes: You Didn't Need That DSL Line You're Using, Right?
It's the Government's Fault You're Still on 1.5 Mbps DSL
by Karl Bode 10:43AM Friday Apr 12 2013
As we've been exploring a lot lately both AT&T and Verizon are quietly, slowly, trying to drive their unwanted customers away from DSL and toward wireless, where users will wind up having to pay significantly more money for data. To accomplish this they've refused upgrades, raised rates on DSL, forced users to bundle an absurdly expensive landline (something they had stopped doing for a while) and in AT&T's case, are now gouging those users with usage fees.

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Neither company can just hang up on these users because of regulations governing their delivery of these services. Those regulations -- at least what's left after a decade of deregulation -- came affixed to billions in subsidies and tax breaks the companies received to deploy them, and in many instances ensure people like your grandma can still get a dial tone at an only-slightly exorbitant price.

To expedite their plan, AT&T and Verizon lobbyists are going state by state lying to local leaders and residents, claiming that gutting those regulations will result somehow in faster, better service.

What will actually happen is users on DSL and POTS will find those connections taken away, leaving them with the option of absurdly expensive satellite broadband, expensive cable broadband (made more expensive by no more DSL competition), or expensive and heavily capped LTE service -- if they can get a decent signal.

What to do with these lines is a complicated problem that requires serious thought, an informed public and healthy regulators to navigate -- and unfortunately we're seeing none of these. What we're seeing is a hatchet approach by AT&T and Verizon simply aimed at gutting all regulations with no honest, public conversation about what happens to these users (and their wallets).

To help sell this con, someone in the AT&T/Verizon lobbying offices asked Steve Forbes to pen an editorial aimed at greasing the public perception rails. In short, Steve, a guy really in touch with feeling the wallet pinch of an expensive broadband connection, effectively argues that you've been stuck on a $60, 1.5 Mbps DSL line for the last decade because the government is mean:
There aren’t many horse and buggies on the road and most of us don’t have typewriters sitting on our desks. So why are copper networks still so widely used although they have been rendered obsolete by next-generation technologies? The simple answer is that federal, state and local regulations are stuck in the past.
Well, no. What actually happened is that after paying off regulators and politicians from both parties, the incumbent phone companies received billions in subsidies and tax cuts to deploy services that in most areas never showed up. Effectively now phone and cable company employees, those politicians and regulators set to work ensuring the incumbent operators enjoyed regulatory capture, limited competition, and feeble consumer protections. The end result? Shockingly, by and large it was unimpressive, expensive service and few competitors.

So, claiming this was all the regulators' faults was only true in a sense, but only if you're a misleading jerk intentionally ignoring context so you can sell someone some lovely Florida swampland.

It should also be noted here that you'd be hard pressed to find a time where AT&T and Verizon were deregulated and the prices and services didn't get worse and more expensive. That's something else that's obnoxiously and strategically ignored despite thirty years of indisputable history.

Oddly, Mr. Forbes uses some of the repairs being done for Sandy recovery to justify why we should gut all PSTN and DSL regulations nationally. Because we needed to replace some flood-damaged copper in part of the country, that means it makes perfect sense to gut all regulations governing these lines nationally -- because you'll magically then see all those upgrades you've been waiting a decade for:
As the rebuilding process continues, many see great value in taking this opportunity to replace outdated copper wire networks with the most modern and useful technologies available. Aside from the benefits of faster connection speeds and advanced service offerings, these new technologies provide next-generation wireless and fiber networks that can withstand harsher environmental interference and can be upgraded as technology improves without the expense of deploying an entirely new network.
Yeah great, except that landline expansion of FiOS and U-Verse is frozen, so users won't be seeing any of this phantom fiber -- with our without future superstorms. As for wireless, while it's a suitable replacement for DSL in some areas, Forbes oddly skips over the fact it will be immeasurably more expensive for users using a heavily capped LTE line as their primary connection (only Forbes can afford streaming HD Netflix with $15 per gigabyte overages), or that there's going to be huge swaths of the country LTE signal really won't reach. Of course AT&T, Verizon and Mr. Forbes couldn't care less what happens to you after these regulations are gutted.

While to some degree you can't blame these companies for having a Pavlovian response and making a b-line to where the money is (wireless), at the same time there's still a conversation we're not having concerning what really happens to these users these companies are about to hang up on. Carriers don't care, nor do the regulators or politicians they pay to look the other way. Mr. Forbes clearly doesn't care. Does anybody?

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Purcellville, VA

2 recommendations

Steve Forbes is right...

We need to gut all regulations that require the telcos to maintain an outdated system. Then those regulations need to be replaced with new ones that require deployment of technology that isn't so outdated in nature - like FIOS.

For example, let's allow Verizon to stop maintaining copper lines - with the requirement that they deploy FIOS to 100% of the homes in the affected areas. This deployment, of course, would be free of charge to residents - along with a price cap on FIOS service for the next 100 years. Pricing would be limited to what it is today, plus the cost of inflation.

Legislation like this would seem only fair and reasonable... Stick it to the companies only when they decide to stick it to the public.
A sane approach to our federal budget: NO tax increases / 15% cuts across-the-board / defunding of all ObamaCare-enacted programs.