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"It's obviously a little outdated for dealing with complicated services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