High-speed-Net lobbyists claim 12 states are 'disconnected'
(IDG) -- A lobbying group that styles itself the "Internet Advancement Coalition" but is financially backed by the two biggest Bell companies has issued a report claiming that 12 states lack "high-speed Internet access" because of federal regulation.
The group, also known as iAdvance, says the solution for the "Disconnected Dozen" is to remove federal regulations preventing regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) from carrying data traffic beyond local calling boundaries. Such a change would provide the incentive to the RBOCs to build and host many more Internet exchange points, or backbone hubs, just as non-Bell companies have, according to the group's study.
Opponents of iAdvance, principally long-distance carriers and competitive local exchange carriers, immediately dismissed the study as a contrived attempt to put statistical weight behind a lobbying drive. They pointed out most high-capacity Internet hand-off points are built by ISPs without regard to whether the facility is located in a Bell or non-Bell local calling territory.
The author of the study, telecom economist Erik Olbeter, conceded that two of the biggest factors in locating such Internet hubs as Network Access Points (NAP) and peering sites are income levels and population densities. But by controlling for these factors, Olbeter says he found through regression analysis that states whose territories are largely Bell-controlled are less likely to have nearby broadband hand-off points than those with lots of traditional non-Bell telephone companies.
For example, Alabama, which has six Internet hubs, would have 40 if BellSouth could carry data across local boundaries. South Dakota, which has zero hubs, would have 30 if US West were freed, the study says. The other disconnected states are Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming.
To tout the study, the iAdvance group held a press conference Tuesday hosted by its hired lobbyists, former Clinton White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari. But the presentation seemed to get mired in confusion over the meaning of disconnected, since the study claimed a lack of availability of backbone facilities, not access lines.
For example, according to an iAdvance statement, Olbeter said: "The vast majority of Americans in inner cities and rural areas simply do not have access to the high-speed Internet and are unable to reap the full benefits of the digital economy." Olbeter later backed off that statement, telling Network World Fusion: "I don't know if it was me or [iAdvance's public relations representative] who put that in there." But he added that even broadband access facilities wouldn't be worth much if traffic got clogged at network exchange points.
The iAdvance group was formed by SBC and Bell Atlantic after AT&T started claiming that its cable networks should not be forced open by regulators even though telcos must offer up their data and voice facilities to competitors. McCurry said the group now has at least eight other members, but he quickly added that the group would be up front about the fact that it receives most of its funding from the two mega-Bells. Together, SBC and Bell Atlantic are poised to divvy up most of the entire nation's local phone coverage except for the BellSouth and US West territories following their currently proposed mergers -- SBC with Ameritech and Bell Atlantic with GTE.
McCurry also told Network World Fusion that iAdvance would only lobby for long-distance authority for the RBOCs on data services, such as proposed in the recently introduced Internet Freedom Act sponsored by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). McCurry said iAdvance would not support or oppose individual applications by Bell companies for complete long-distance authority, including voice telephony, filed with state regulators and the Federal Communications Commission.
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