Today, the FCC ruled in a contentious battle to deny wholesale rate access to competitors of regionally monopolistic Baby Bell firms, like Verizon. Why is this important?
Because we are going to see rates to businesses and household consumers rise. We are going to see incumbents entrench themselves in old technologies with slower rates of innovation. The powerful forces that were driving costs down while at the same time generating new and bold innovations in information technology are being strangled.
The problem is that collusive interests are undermining the will of the U.S. Congress which tried to make absolutely sure that facilities that the Baby Bells inherited after the break-up of AT&T were made available at fair rates to competitors who could not be expected to create massive new regional and national facilities to reach consumers.
This regime has been collapsing for some time. The bottom line, in my view, is that Michael Powell knows his days are numbered at the FCC and he's going to need a job soon.
Not only is Powell not protecting the country from the nefarious consequences of concentrated media power, he is driving it. He has exploited Janet Jackson's boob-stunt to create fear throughout the broadcast media on the viability of provocative educational and political content. And now, he is stifling America's broadband-rich potential and taking us back to a time of oligopolies in technology firms.
There has been continuing concern on the part of business and universities that the current policies of the Bush administration are driving away talented individuals (foreign students and emigrees), as well as reducing American competitiveness in the global marketplace by reducing investment in technology and a growing anti-science mentality. The Washington Monthly had an article last year by Nicholas Thompson on just this issue (Science Friction July/August 2003). The article isn't available on-line, but the basic idea is that there are a number of areas including immigration, health care and research that the U.S. is falling behind on. Charlie Rose had a round-table discussion on this topic a few months ago and the general consensus is that other countries are investing more into science education and modernizing technology.
The U.S. will take its future in its own hands unless it deals with these issues. While many laughed at Al Gore's tech/science wonkishness and Clinton's electronic superhighway to the future, they were putting in place policies that would keep America on the leading edge. There are already several countries now with a higher penetration of broad band access than in the U.S. The Bush administration, in contrast, seems more concerned with posh board positions (Michael Powell) and appealing to an anti-science base (conservative christians).
Actions like California's recent approval of $3 billion for stem-cell research might be controversial, but it will bring further investment as well as an immigration of capable minds. President Bush needs to take similar steps on the national level, if not stem-cell research, than in other areas such as gene therapy and fossil fuel alternatives (not even for environmental reasons, but because someone is going to do it, why not us?). An aggressive courting of cutting edge scientists and tech specialists can help keep the U.S. at the forefront.