Rocky Mountain News Editorial
Monday, December 12, 2005
Consumers should be delighted that advancing technology now
makes it possible for telephone companies to provide video
over their copper wires, and cable companies to offer
telephone service through their cables. If competition
works its usual magic, that will mean lower prices or better
services or quite likely both. In the Denver area, that
competition will play out largely between Qwest (telephones)
and Comcast (cable). Qwest is negotiating with a group of
32 Colorado jurisdictions, the Greater Metro
Telecommunications Consortium, over a model franchise
agreement for video. Rival Comcast, to no one's surprise,
is arguing that since its cable franchises require "buildout,"
providing service everywhere in the franchise area, Qwest
should be required to do the same.
But as it happens, under federal policy Comcast doesn't need
a franchise to offer telephone service over the Internet and
so it isn't subject to any such "buildout" requirement in
that field. We don't hear it arguing that it should be,
either. We think Qwest should face the same buildout
requirements in television as Comcast does in telephony --
that is to say, none.
Trying to guarantee that every neighborhood in a community
will have a second cable television provider might even mean
that nobody gets one, if the deal doesn't look financially
feasible in a given city or county.
If prices fall or services improve in the areas where
competition arrives first, so much the better. After all,
communities do not try to force uniformity of prices or
service in other businesses more important than cable TV.
Neither telephone nor television or any other communications
service is a monopoly any longer. They compete not only
with each other, but with satellite, and with who knows what
in the future. The level of regulation that was considered
appropriate when they were monopolies is becoming less and
less significant as the technologies develop. It isn't all
that long ago that people were saying with great but
misplaced confidence that the copper wires leading to home
telephones would never carry the bandwidth needed for
television. But as it turns out, they can.
Customers will decide, in the end, what package of goods and
services provides them with the best value, but it seems
clear that many will prefer to get all their services from a
single provider. The more people who have a choice of two
or more, the better - and the best way to achieve that is to
refrain from putting up unnecessary buildout barriers.