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the digital divide and universal access (was: Re: The %^&# didit!)

  • From: Jeff Ogden
  • Date: Wed May 17 07:49:44 2000


It seems as if there are two ways out of the Access Charge business. One is to impose Access Charges on all phone services, Internet and non-Internet alike. The other is to get rid of Access Charges altogether. The Universal Service charges that all phone companies pay and which some pass along to their customers as explicit line item charges on bills are separate, but similar, and will have to be sorted out as well.

All of these charges have the same common purpose, to charge more for one service (long distance) so another service (monthly local service) will cost less or to charge more to most customers so that other customers (low income households or households located in areas where the cost of service would otherwise be high) will pay less.

My impression is that the FCC is mostly on a course of getting rid of Access and other charges rather than imposing these charges on the Internet versions of traditional phone services. This approach will make some traditional phone companies happy (IXCs) and it will upset others (LECs). That will result in a big fight.

Hidden behind the fights between big phone companies are important public policy issues such as the balance between what one pays for long distance calls and what one pays for fixed monthly local phone service. Lower costs for monthly phone service have a lot to do with making phone service affordable to everyone and that has a lot to do with keeping phone subscribership in the U.S. high.

Keeping phone subscribership high still seems like a worthy public policy goal. The trick is to do it in a way that provides a level playing field for all providers of the same service (that is, for everyone that is in competition). Just taking the old forms of regulation and extending them to the Internet doesn't seem like a good approach, however. If others agree that the public policy goal is an important one, I suspect we will need to trade in some old forms of regulation/charges for some new forms of regulation/charges.

To deal with the digital divide I am not sure I would be against some form of fees imposed on all Internet service rather than just Internet telephone services. I do worry that the new regulations will come with a lot of bureaucracy and therefore a lot of unnecessary expense or that the playing field won't actually be level. In the end I guess it comes down to is, do you think there is a digital divide and if so, how important you think it is to deal with it?

Or asked another way: Does the US want to have a public policy goal of having as high a level of subscribership for Internet access from homes as we do for phone service? If we do, is some form of government action required to achieve that result? And if it is, what form of action should the government take?

-Jeff

At 1:05 AM -0400 5/17/00, Declan McCullagh wrote:
A few thoughts:

* I didn't write this morning's Wired News article, but it's pretty much on-target. If you want a rather long feature story on this stuff, check out a 1997 piece I did for Wired Magazine:
http://www.wired.com/wired/5.06/netizen.html

* The House did vote for the bill today. It passed. The Senate has not done the same.

* This is an inevitable consequence of having wacky "universal service fund" ideas in the telephone industry. (Good idea, maybe, but the implementation?) It carries over into the online world with unforseen and probably harmful unintended consequences.

-Declan



At 13:45 5/16/2000 -0700, Derek J. Balling wrote:

At 04:34 PM 5/16/00 -0400, Jim Mercer wrote:

On Tue, May 16, 2000 at 01:29:05PM -0700, Eric A. Hall wrote:
> > i don't use ICQ, but i sorta understood it to be half between biff and
> > irc.
> >
> > how is ICQ considered an "online telephone service"?
>
> It has two modes. In simple mode it is as you state. In advanced mode it
> offers a voice chat function.

ah, that would explain it.
Yeah, but it still wouldn't surprise me if the law was so poorly-written that it ALSO applied to:

Instant Messenger services
E-Mail services
E-Mail to Pager Gateways
E-Mail to Cel Phone Gateways
Overnight Delivery Package Tracking systems
Porn Site Credit Card Verification Systems

;-)

D





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