House Legislation Will Level Playing Field in Telecommunications Industry, Spur Competition

Open, vigorous competition is one of the catalysts for the resurgent Pennsylvania economy.

Competition holds down prices and creates more choices for consumers. It also forces businesses to adapt quickly to consumer demands and changing market conditions. And those rapid changes almost always require businesses to make significant investments in the community.

In short, competition creates jobs.

However, there is one important catch:  competition thrives only when there is a level playing field for everyone.  When government regulations create an unbalanced marketplace, competition withers, monopolies form, and consumers lose.

No industry better illustrates the positive effects of competition than the communications industry, where companies like CenturyLink compete with cable TV providers, wireless companies and Internet-based voice providers. All of us are battling to win over businesses and consumers.

We are constantly rolling out new, innovative technologies, such as high-speed broadband Internet, voice over IP and on-demand video. Our broadband network will eventually bring even more services such as gigabit Internet speeds, smart home security, enhanced public safety for first responders as well as new and better telemedicine and digital learning applications.

What’s more, these new technologies are powerful tools that businesses – from the smallest to the largest – need to compete in their own industries. Teachers, doctors, firefighters, and police officers also depend on technology tools to serve and protect our communities.

CenturyLink alone invested more than $42 million in Pennsylvania just last year. We currently employ more than 600 residents who earn almost $34 million annually. That’s a big investment, but that’s what it takes and it’s worth every penny.

Together, the communications industry has poured billions of dollars into Pennsylvania to build and maintain the massive and intricate infrastructure needed to deliver these state-of-the-art technology services.

However, in Pennsylvania, out-of-date, unbalanced regulations threaten competition in the communications industry. The state’s communications regulations were last updated during the days of monopoly telephone service and old-fashioned rotary phones. Government needs to evolve its regulations in the same way the industry has adapted.

Fortunately, policymakers in Harrisburg are starting to realize this. The State House of Representatives is currently considering the Telecommunications Market Competition Act (HB 1608), which would modernize Pennsylvania’s outdated laws and replace them with reforms that will:

  • Provide consistency and uniformity to the state’s communications regulatory framework
  • Create a “safety net” that will keep rates low for basic calling service in competitive exchanges until 2018; and
  • Ensure that the Public Utility Commission – the state agency that oversees communications – regulates areas, typically rural, where communications options are limited

Pennsylvania is not the only state to confront this problem. Several other states have modernized their telecommunications regulations recently. Those same states compete with Pennsylvania for new employers – particularly those in the thriving technology sector. Pennsylvania already has 200,000 technology employees, and continued growth in that sector is critical to the state’s future success.

But those technology companies only invest in states where the latest, fastest communications services are available. It would be a shame if Pennsylvania started losing  jobs to those states where regulation has kept pace with innovation.

The Pennsylvania economy is finally moving forward. Passing the Telecommunications Market Competition Act will help the state keep moving in the right direction.

Dana Chase, Eastern Region President, CenturyLink