Electronic Commerce Raises Sea of Issues for State

Article excerpt

If you think you are confused about the ever-increasing array of telecommunications services and products, you have nothing on those who are in the thick of the pitched competitive battle for your business.

Not only are there new gizmos and programs every day, but the means of delivery are changing with lightning speed, one form merging into another as the industry continually repositions itself -- with equipment that formerly provided a single service suddenly being required to deliver several.

This message of "convergence" was delivered to the House Science and Technology Committee Tuesday by telecommunications consultant Jeff Treeman, former president of Tulsa-based United Video. "Convergence is a fact," he said. "It's going to happen." Treeman said convergence is the watchword throughout the industry -- of applications, devices, delivery mechanisms, networks and all other phases of telecommunications. And the stakes are high, he said, with 20 percent of U.S. revenues coming from entertainment, publication, telephones, electronics, broadcast television, wireless communications, cable TV, radio and computers -- all of which are affected one way or another by the amorphous state of the industry and how government chooses to regulate it. "It's not a choice to play," Treeman said. "It's how the state chooses to play." And, as if it is not enough to try to handle all of the information made available by this boom, government must decide how to address a whole sea of issues raised by electronic commerce. "Boundaries disappear," said Treeman. Today, he said, it is possible to buy insurance electronically in the Bahamas or to bank in Switzerland. With the proper technology, he told the panel, it is possible to leverage Oklahoma's position in the telecommunications marketplace. He said the state can help both existing and new businesses deal with the problems of new technology. Treeman cautioned the panel to look closely at changes in the industry, to be able to distinguish between real growth and what he termed "virtual" growth. By virtual growth, he said, he was referring to what is actually just movement from one medium to another -- Internet users taking time away from television, direct broadcast system television taking time away from cable TV, faxing taking business away from the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx, and the like. As an example of real growth, Treeman cited the needed addition of telephone lines for computers, fax machines and other applications. Other issues Treeman said drive the industry are the conversion of certain applications from analog to digital, because computers are better able to handle the latter; increased consumer expectations and the public's demand for increased speed in communications. As to government's role, he said, it must be remembered that convergence is a process. "There's no crystal ball in all this," Treeman said, adding that change will continue to occur. …