WASHINGTON - Congress is at a "critical pivot point" in communications policy that will either increase broadband network innovation and consumer choice or limit progress toward both for years to come, a top Verizon executive told leaders of the media industry today. He called on Congress to act immediately.
At issue is the first major update of telecommunications law in a decade. The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate commerce committee have each approved bipartisan bills to accelerate broadband deployment by speeding up the video franchise approval process. The goal is to offer consumers the benefits of competition in the cable television market - choice in providers and programming, as well as price competition.
Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, said the transformative technology of fiber optics is enabling Verizon to offer consumers more of everything the broadband and Internet worlds have to offer at extremely high speeds on the company's FiOS network.
"FiOS is transforming the speed and flexibility of the Internet - and that is a huge draw for customers," he told a communications forum luncheon here held by the Media Institute. "Consumers want to see the same kind of competition in video that they have in phone and Internet services - and that's what FiOS does. Consumers save between 20 and 40 percent on their monthly cable bills where Verizon is competing."
Tauke said such current "seismic shifts in business models and consumer expectations...are the result of policy decisions that unleashed broadband and wireless markets from the tether of government regulation." He warned that such policies are being "discussed anew, and we should not make the mistake of believing the future we envision is assured."
"We have a window of opportunity to step into a new world of broadband and consumer choice, or we can step back into the old world of limited innovation and limited opportunity for consumers," he said. "The stakes are high. The time to act is now."
The Verizon executive, who is also a former congressman, congratulated the House and Senate panel chairmen for "their clear vision in setting goals" and making "a great deal of positive progress on a legislative package." But he voiced concern about potential legislative approaches to 'net neutrality' and interconnection regulations pertaining to voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) services.
The full House and Senate commerce committee included 'net neutrality' provisions and rejected more extreme approaches. But the issue continues to be divisive. Calling it the "oddest Washington debate I have ever seen," Tauke said the extreme approaches "amount to holding a Congressional vote on hypothetical business plans." He praised Congress for focusing on consumer access to the Internet and for rejecting attempts thus far to mandate a preferred business model, saying, "The 'hands-off-the-Internet' approach by government has been enormously successful." He continued:
"I can see why some of the big companies that have done exceedingly well on the Internet of today want to lock the current business model in. They'd like to perpetuate what is working for them.
"But for consumers and the country, government regulation of this developing market is a lose-lose proposition," he said. "Such old-world regulation would severely hamper the deployment of new networks that are the essential foundation for the broadband world."
Tauke said the debate over the telecommunications-update legislation centers on divergent views of the future.
"Some people look at broadband and see an uncertain future. We look at broadband and see unlimited possibilities," he said. "The power of broadband to innovate, integrate and equalize in the marketplace will not come from imposing limitations, but in lifting them."
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), a Dow 30 company, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 53 million customers nationwide. Verizon Business operates one of the most expansive wholly-owned global IP networks. Verizon Telecom is deploying the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network to deliver the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services to customers. Based in New York, Verizon has a diverse workforce of more than 250,000 and generates annual consolidated operating revenues of approximately $90 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.