Monday, March 21, 2005

I Ain’t Got Your Stinkin Phone Service

I thought about titling this one “Let’s Just Stay Naked” in deference to Joan Osborne but worried I might offend. "Naked DSL" is when you can buy just DSL without having to buy phone service. I love that moniker, makes DSL sound forbidden.

FCC v. Consumers…another TKO. But that’s cool, consumers have been taking it on the chin from the FCC for quite some time. We’re used to the broken teeth and the black eyes.

This not so simple act of suspending public utility commission regulations in California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana that require phone companies to offer DSL separate from phone service is just more of the same old prop-up-a-dying-industry nonsense we’ve all come to love and embrace.

In 1999, Scientific American dedicated its issue to “The Race for Broadband.” It had a comprehensive overview of emerging (at that time) broadband technologies, interviews with engineers and puff pieces on corporate execs, speaking in their own words, about the wonders of their technologies. When I read it I thought “There go the phone companies.”

It’s a confluence of a lot of things. The phone companies sat on their hands while cable ops were rolling out fiber. Now Johnny-Come-Lately to the game, we’re all supposed to feel sorry for them for making bad business decisions that have lost them land-lines, left them wanting in the broadband race and found them floundering in video roll-out. At least Verizon figured out that cell phone service would be a hit.

The implications of this FCC decision go beyond BellSouth’s insatiable desire to keep itself out of bankruptcy. Is the FCC going to follow suit with the cable ops? You can’t get cable modem unless you buy cable? There are actual living, breathing human beings in our great nation who do not want cable television, they are perfectly satisfied with four channels and rabbit ears. I talked to one mother this weekend who told me that they do get modem but not the cable because she doesn’t want her kids watching t.v. all day. Makes sense, I did the same thing with my kids. Even if you don’t have kids some people find paying for 90 channels with nothing on a waste of money.

Today, I spent some time online looking up wireless cards for laptops, dreaming of a time when I could in good conscience plop down eighty bucks a month to get my email while on the road. Will it come to pass that if I want that wireless service I will have to buy the company’s phone service, even if I don’t want it or won’t hardly use it?

Gotta give credit to BellSouth, they’re mixing it up in Indiana and Illinois and various other spots to block municipal rollout of broadband and then in the places where they do provide broadband, they’ve figured out a way to force you to buy their phone service.

I’ve always said “I wish I were a cable company.” Now I’m not so sure. Cable gets a free ride everywhere you turn, but the phone companies…ah the complex romance of the telephone…get hand-outs right and left and still get to stick it big time to the consumer.

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