(Gary Rohrer, Sunshine State News) — Regulations designed to moderate the local monopolies of telephone companies are obsolete, and are impeding job growth and investments in new technology, according to a report released Thursday.
The report, issued by Citizens for a Digital Future, an Atlanta-based advocacy group that promotes broadband Internet access, shows that increased broadband availability resulting from the elimination of old regulations could lead to $7.5 billion in investment and more than 143,000 jobs.
“The numbers show that state regulation impacts broadband investment. By removing the statewide cobwebs of regulations that afflict telecom, Florida can eliminate the possibility that investment will flow to another state with a lower risk profile,” said Hance Haney, director and senior fellow of the technology and democracy project at the Discovery Institute, who co-authored the study.
Because new technologies like cell phones, broadband Internet access and satellite and cable TV have blurred the line between companies and the services they offer, old telephone regulations are no longer needed in a competitive market, Haney argued.
“There is virtually no way for a telecom company to unreasonably raise its rates,” he said.
Instead, the regulations create an unlevel playing field between older companies that fall under the regulations and newer mobile phone companies that don’t.
Some of the specific “legacy” regulations that Haney says should be eliminated are price regulations of the telecom industry, filing requirements that give competitors advance warning of new services or products, the state Public Service Commission’s ability to act on consumer complaints and service quality regulation.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, filed legislation Wednesday that would address some of those regulations, including reducing the PSC’s ability to regulate telecom companies.
Christina Johnson, a senior advisor for CDF, whose national members include AT&T and Sunrise Telecom, said they are still reviewing the legislation for its potential impact on investment and jobs.
Haney and CDF contend that the PSC’s oversight of consumer complaints is not only an obsolete regulation, but superfluous because the Florida attorney general already has authority to act on violations of the state Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
“The (attorney general) is the consumer’s recourse. The (attorney general) protects against deceptive business practices in every level of the Florida economy,” Haney said.
While touting the potential jobs and investment capital to be mined after obsolete telecom regulations are done away with, Haney was less certain those jobs and investment dollars would stay in Florida. The crucial point, however, could be the jobs lost if the free market isn’t allowed to work its magic and the regulations remain on the books. Currently, companies that aren’t faced with the legacy regulations have a competitive advantage over their rivals and are not spurred by vigorous competition to invest and grow.
“They only need to keep ahead of the phone company, they don’t need to beat them by leaps and bounds,” Haney said.