Getting Out of the Way

It takes more than just a digital network to jump-start a competitive

marketplace, a fact that Minnesota knows all too well.

"Our laws regarding telecommunications technologies were written in

1915, which essentially included nothing more complicated than the telephone

and the telegraph," said David Fisher, Minnesota commissioner of administration.

"It's obviously a little outdated for dealing with complicated services

like cell phones, call waiting and digital networks."

Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration recently released the Telecommunications

Strategic Plan, which aims to transition the state from a noncompetitive

regulatory environment to a consumer-oriented telecom marketplace.

Among the goals: The first universal service plan in the country for

providing data and video access to high-cost service areas; no less than

two local telephone providers and no less than two competitors for data

and video transmission in each market; and a continued effort to lift all

regulatory restrictions as the marketplace evolves.

"As competition steps up, the local telephone companies will then see

an increased flexibility in regulation, they can adjust their prices more

freely and they will no longer be watched over by the Public Utilities Commission

as far as quality of service," Fisher said. "But by the same token, as competition

increases, the competition itself will cause the existing telephone companies

to keep their service up and their rates low. It's the natural order."

— Heather Hayes is a free-lance writer based in Stuarts Draft, Va.

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