In January, a new Congress will be seated and a sitting president inaugurated for a second term. January may also mark the last time people who are interested in communications and media will be able to make any kind of solid predictions for the future. The birth of 2005 heralds the necessary re-write of the Telecommunications Act.
Much attention will be on Congress and Washington, D.C., but even more attention will need to be paid to states and local government. Intelligent industry lobbyists and strategic thinkers understand that the federal system is cumbersome and runs about as fast as molasses in January. The telecom industry is not monolithic by any means, and their own in-fighting is good news for regulators, but they at least understand one valuable concept, if you want rapid change…take it to the statehouse.
This is a common and smart tactic for any advocacy. State by state reform has been used in issues such as gun control, abortion, the environment and gay marriage with tremendous success for the “reformers.” And while it might seem that proposing a sweeping change at the federal level may be easier because you only have one legislature to deal with as opposed to fifty, it is exactly the opposite. After all, who is actually watching the statehouse?
A recent example is legislation that was slipped by the citizens of Pennsylvania. Verizon was able to successfully get legislation passed that prevented Pennsylvanian municipalities from building their own WiFi networks. An exception was carved out for Philadelphia (after much objection by Philly activists) but what about Pittsburgh, or Reading or Allentown? Ohio will be facing the same kind of challenge in the coming year when the industry works to pass legislation that will prevent municipalities from building all sorts of municipally run telecom infrastructure. Who knows what other state measures are lurking in 2005? As I always say “A bad idea has a way of taking on a life of its own.”
Replication is the key. It’s not necessary to individually write separate pieces of legislation for each and every state, just take one piece, do some “Find and Replace” and voila!
For that reason, regulators and public interest advocates need to be aware of legislation being introduced in every statehouse. If it passes in Ohio you can bet it will be introduced in Washington and Wisconsin. Additionally, many states don’t have rules regarding germaneness of legislation to the bill proposed, so you will see bits and pieces thrown into legislation that has nothing whatsoever to do with “telecom.” Dig deep into budget bills, that’s always a favorite way to get something passed with ease and stealth.
So while the national news will be focusing on the macro, it will be important for the public to be educated about the micro. Otherwise by the time the Telecommunications Act really does get re-written it may not really matter that much because so much of the public interest will have been stripped out at the state level.
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