Study shows increased access to telecom and broadband networks improves quality of life

Washington 28 October 2003New opportunities could be sparked in California for new jobs, better health care, independent living, and consumer cost savings if federal and state regulators restructure the regulatory framework to encourage more investment and innovation in broadband and other telecommunications services, according to a new report by the Alliance for Public Technology (APT). The report also cites examples from a diverse group of eight California leaders who note that consumers, seniors, students, rural residents, and people with disabilities, as well as all Californians in general, would benefit from telecom reform and the acceleration of broadband in the state.


Entitled "Increasing Access to Telecom and Broadband Networks in California - Consumer Perspectives on Telecommunications Regulation", the APT report includes an estimate that a total of 73.500 jobs could be created in California in the next three years if state regulators encourage the expansion of broadband and other services by easing UNE-P requirements. Over three years, UNE reform could boost the state's economy by creating between 31.000 and 73.500 additional jobs, the APT report states.

Richard A. Bilas, professor emeritus of economics at California State University-Bakersfield and a former president of the California Public Utilities Commission, noted: "Since June 2001, California's unemployment rate has averaged 6,4 percent. UNE-P regulations contributed to the major phone companies reducing their workforce by over 32.000 in 2002 alone." Dr. Bilas concluded that as many as 50.000 additional existing jobs could be at risk in California over the next two years as a result of national UNE-P related job losses.

"Universal access to affordable broadband services provides the key to the next take-off of economic growth and social benefits from our telecommunications infrastructure", stated Tony Bixler, vice president, Communications Workers of America District 9. He blamed current unbundling policies, in California and in many other states, for job losses. "The result has been drastic cost pressures on the incumbents. They have responded by cutting the only two variable expenses: labour and capital."

"The state's decision about where to set price will have a profound impact on the extent of the detriment suffered in California and particularly California's rural areas", stated Allen S. Hammond IV, a professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the Broadband Institute of California. Professor Hammond stated that one of the chief obstacles to overcoming network deployment is the cost of financing. "One of the issues affecting the finance of deployment of advanced network technologies in rural areas is the adverse impact of access policies like UNE-P."

"Encouraging competition and deployment of advanced services requires a regulatory structure that is flexible and forward-looking", according to Arturo Gandara, a law professor with the University of California-Davis, and Barbara O'Connor, a communications professor at the California State University-Sacramento. The recent release of the Triennial Review Order by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opens an historic opportunity for California to determine the future for UNE-P policies, they stated. "To better serve consumers, a new approach that values innovation and investment is needed."

But the report also warns that California risks losing much more than potential jobs if current telecom regulations go unchanged. "Most people with disabilities are not going to be able to afford broadband technologies unless there is much more serious infrastructure investment and prices come down much further", stated Deborah Kaplan, executive director of the World Institute on Disability. Research shows that people with disabilities are using Web-based technologies more than others, she added. But Ms. Kaplan said that these benefits will not be attained if California regulators do not implement policies that promote network investment and reduce prices.

"The potential of broadband technology for reducing the unemployment rate, which is as high as 14,3 percent in some areas of Los Angeles County, is of particular concern to the Los Angeles NAACP chapter", stated Geraldine R. Washington, who is president of the NAACP branch. She noted that broadband to the home can help train the next generation of IT workers and help people overcome poverty.

Lance A. Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Long Beach Community Services Development Corporation, stated: "Competitively priced mass-market broadband deployment may be the strongest equalizing force for our society, particularly for California's poor and low-income residents, as well as multi-cultural and multi-lingual persons."

"The opportunities for broadband and broadband applications for older adults are unlimited", stated Ann Wrixon, president and CEO of SeniorNet. Of immediate benefit to older adults would be telemedicine applications, home monitoring services, caregiver support, and lower health care costs, according to Ann Wrixon. "Unless current regulatory policies encourage the rapid roll-out of broadband networks, older adults may not gain these technologies that would improve their quality of life", Ms. Wrixon added.

The Alliance for Public Technology (APT) is a non-profit, tax-exempt membership organisation. APT's mission is to foster access to affordable and useful information and communication services and technologies by all people. APT's members are public interest groups and individuals, some of who historically have been left out of the Information Age, including the elderly, minorities, low-income groups, and people with disabilities.

Leslie Versweyveld

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