Oklahoma small business owners with a presence on the Internet
should either be thrilled or terrified by the telecommunications
legislation Congress is considering, depending on who's offering an
opinion on the bills.
Some say the legislation would lead to greater investment in the
networks, thus providing Web surfers with better and faster access
to business owners' Web sites. Those on the other side of the issue
say small businesses' Web access will get squeezed out by the big
companies that can afford to pay for premium service.
The Internet is evolving, said AT&T spokesperson Claudia Jones
from her office in Washington, D.C. It's not what it was 10 years
ago, or five years ago.
Technologies that require greater bandwidth, like streaming video
and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), are in high demand, and
Internet providers need to invest in a better, faster network if
they expect to keep up, she said.
The question is whether or not Congress is going to force the
consumer to shoulder the entire load of building the new system,
Roughly 10 years after Congress last tackled such an extensive
piece of telecommunications legislation, the U.S. House of
Representatives voted last week to approve the Communications
Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act. The Senate was
scheduled to hold hearings on the Consumer's Choice and Broadband
Deployment Act on Tuesday, with a final version of the bill expected
by the end of next week.
In part, the bills would make it easier for telephone companies
to expand into television business. The legislation would allow the
Baby Bell telephone companies - incumbent telephone companies formed
from the breakup of the AT&T monopoly in 1984 - to obtain national
video franchises, instead of having to secure franchise agreements
one at a time with individual towns and cities to provide video
The portion of the federal legislation dealing with video
franchises would appear to have little effect in Oklahoma. Attorney
General Drew Edmondson issued a legal opinion in May stating that
Oklahoma's incumbent telephone company, formerly called SBC but now
known as AT&T, already has been granted the right of way statewide
by explicit language in the Oklahoma Constitution. AT&T may use its
telephone lines to offer other services, such as video programming,
without having to secure additional franchises, Edmondson said. But
other states' constitutions do not provide telephone companies with
statewide right of way, and the incumbent telephone companies have
lobbied hard in Washington for federal legislation that would allow
them to secure a national video franchise.
Cox Oklahoma, a major competitor with AT&T for phone, Internet
and video services in Oklahoma, had objected to Edmondson's opinion.
The cable television company pays nearly $14 million a year in
franchise fees with municipalities in Oklahoma.
But when it comes to a proposal known as network neutrality, AT&T
and Cox are in perfect agreement - the federal government should not
interfere with the companies' management of their own networks, say
officials from both the telephone company and the cable company.
Google, Microsoft, AARP, the Consumer Federation of America, the
American Civil Liberties Union and the Christian Coalition of
America are among the numerous organizations that have urged
Congress to adopt a network neutrality provision that would prohibit
Internet providers from discriminating against content or extorting
exorbitant fees from those who put their information on the