|Issue:||North America 2007|
|Topic:||Welcome to the consumer era|
|Title:||Senior Vice President|
|Organisation:||Law & Policy for the United States Telecom Association|
Jonathan Banks is Senior Vice President – Law & Policy for the United States Telecom Association, USTelecom, which represents service providers and suppliers for the telecom industry. Mr Banks directs the associationís policy development and advocacy work before the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the courts. Mr Banks came to USTelecom after serving in several leadership roles at BellSouth, most recently as Vice President – Executive and Regulatory Affairs. He has also served as General Counsel in BellSouthís Washington office. Prior to joining BellSouth, Mr Banks held positions at the Federal Trade Commission, Armstrong World Industries and the Association of American Railroads.
Technology now lets telecommunications providers offer voice, video and broadband service at home and away. This has revolutionized the sector and spurred competition for the full array of communications services. To meet demand, and beat the competition, service providers are spending billions on infrastructure to integrate wireline, wireless, video and Internet and deliver innovative services seamlessly. This will provide business opportunities for small business and the resulting services will help them seek new opportunities outside traditional local and regional markets.
In the past few years, rapid changes in technology have blown the doors wide open for communications service providers who now provide voice, video and broadband service at home and on the road. Once the exclusive domain of cable companies, new alternatives for video service have revolutionized the communications industry and spurred extremely robust, cross-platform competition for the full array of communications services. Around the world, consumers are increasingly demanding access to new and innovative video products and services so they can watch shows such as CSI on their own terms, when and where they choose. Viewers are no longer tied to the big screens in their family rooms for ëtelevision by appointmentí. While most consumers still watch shows from the couch at home, many also catch up on the latest episode of Lost on their laptops at the local coffee house; download sitcoms on their wireless handheld devices while waiting in line at the airport or the grocery store; and even watch the latest cartoons from the backseat of the family minivan. To meet this unprecedented demand, and keep ahead of the competition, telecom service providers are spending billions of dollars investing in new infrastructure to deliver innovative video and high-speed Internet services to their customers. These companies are working hard to integrate wireline, wireless, video and Internet services seamlessly to anticipate consumer demands and add even more value in todayís highly competitive communications market. With the boundaries of innovation stretching in unfathomable directions, USTelecomís member companies – which range from some of the smallest rural telecoms in the nation to some of the largest corporations driving the global economy – are leading the way to offer consumers an exciting array of cutting-edge voice, data, long-distance, Internet and video choices. Video and broadband deployment This innovation is shaking up business models, driving communications service providers to deliver new products rapidly and creating unprecedented choices and opportunities for consumers. Telecom companies are beginning to provide US households with digital television over high-speed Internet lines – a trend that is accelerating broadband deployment. Video will continue to play a pivotal role in the rapid and widespread adoption of broadband around the world. With broadband deployment, the possibilities are endless and involve far more than eye-popping entertainment. Imagine a world in which you can sit at home and review your blood pressure with your doctor in real time or work collaboratively with your colleagues without leaving home, fighting traffic or spending a dime on gas. The next wave of broadband innovation is expected to deliver extraordinary benefits to consumers and the economy. One recent study shows that seniors could save US$800 billion in health care costs over the next 25 years – savings that rival all US national security spending. Telecommuting could deliver US$3.9 billion in annual time and fuel cost savings, while reducing traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil. Broadband is making this – and so much more – possible. Broadband video – boosting small businesses As cutting-edge video services spur faster and ever more sophisticated broadband networks, small businesses will be among the greatest beneficiaries of the resulting next-generation infrastructure and competition. North American telecommunications companies will spend an estimated US$70 billion this year to upgrade the communications infrastructure that comprises the Internet. This significant investment provides a host of new opportunities for businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Access to advanced broadband technology is critical for small businesses to compete in the global marketplace, to seek new opportunities outside traditional local and regional markets, to connect with customers and suppliers and to be effective partners in commercial supply chains. Competition for their business is both fierce – and increasingly diverse. In fact, according to the FCC, during the first half of 2006, more than 6.7 million wireless high-speed Internet lines were added by businesses – an increase of more than 200 per cent. Wireline and wireless broadband service providers are actively seeking to distinguish their services from competitors. As a result, we see a variety of product and service options that allow owners to manage their small businesses effectively. With announcements virtually every day about new fibre, DSL, WiFi, WiMAX, cable modem and satellite technology deployments, business owners can choose from countless options when selecting providers for all of their communications needs. Spurring deployment and competition While carriers are working non-stop to deliver a broadband video future to communities across the country, we must make sure that policies are in place to spur continued massive investment in broadband deployment and competition. Telecoms are investing billions of dollars to deploy new services, but they are required to obtain permission from thousands of local franchising authorities before offering consumers a competitive alternative to cable or satellite. An FCC order released this spring will help streamline the franchising process. Unfortunately, municipalities are crying foul with this new approach and urging a return to the old ëmother may Ií local roadblocks to consumer choice. Itís important that our policies focus on a clear public benefit – giving consumers another choice in the marketplace and refusing to erect government barriers that deter urgently needed investments to upgrade and expand our broadband infrastructure. Several forward-looking states have successfully implemented statewide franchising to bring video competition to consumers more quickly. This policy shift is a critical step to help speed telecomsí deployment of advanced video services. Case in point: in 2006, Verizon received the first state-wide franchise in New Jersey and announced plans to offer video service to 100 communities across the state within weeks. When outdated competitive barriers to entry are removed, USTelecomís member companies are poised to deliver a new world of innovative products, services and choices to consumers. Also vital to expanding viable choices in the marketplace is access to essential programming. To bring real competition to the video market, providers must be able to offer consumers the content they want. We must keep the market competitive by ensuring that all video service providers have access to must-have video content often controlled by their cable competitors. Last but not least, we need to make sure the government doesnít step in and regulate the Internet, which makes all of this innovation possible. Given the profound success of the US governmentís historic ëhands-offí approach, it would seem ludicrous to step in now and regulate, just as the nation is poised to reap the benefits of Web 2.0. Bringing these and other advances to life in communities across the country will require an Internet that remains not only free from government intervention, but openly nurtured by policies that foster ongoing investment to extend broadbandís reach into our communities, and continually add both intelligence and capacity to the network to keep pace with rising online traffic and ever more sophisticated applications. Video innovation Harnessing the power of integrated technologies inspires companies to introduce revolutionary products and services that put consumers in control of their content experience. Whether you watch YouTube on your PC or your Verizon V-cast mobile service, whether you catch your favourite movies or songs on your iPhone or on AT&Tís U-verse television service, whether consumers leave behind the cable guy for equally innovative local telecoms in their community, consumers will have an increasingly wider array of choices for how they enjoy their content. Itís an exciting future for our companies, for the converging worlds of communications, information and entertainment – and, of course, for our customers. Meanwhile, integrated communications service providers continue to invest and upgrade their networks to ensure that millions of consumers benefit from new and innovative opportunities. These companies – from small and rural carriers to large corporations – are providing creative, integrated solutions, as well as delivering enhanced services from offering more on-demand viewing choices, to allowing consumers to select different angles as they watch a sporting event, to enabling remote programming of a consumerís digital video recorder over the Internet. Moreover, this barely scratches the surface of the innovation underway. With enhanced broadband and greater video choice, a better world is within reach. Telecom companies are committed to investing and innovating in the delivery of next-generation services that will unleash countless consumer benefits. With the technology at hand and a pro-investment policy climate, telecom companies look forward to playing a defining role in what will undoubtedly be ëthe era of the consumerí in the new world of communications and entertainment.