Fighting City Hall Gets Easier

Carl Weinschenk

Four stories we've seen just in the past few days point to the impact of government cooperation or resistance in the creation of high-bandwidth, convergence-capable networks.

The stories are varied. They look at the slowdown in fiber deployment caused by the Federal Communications Commission's foot-dragging on the AT&T/BellSouth merger; the fact that the Canadian government is unlikely to regulate a broad form of VoIP; the steps the Chinese government may take to support its flagging 3G standard and the benefits Net Neutrality backers expect from the Democratic sweep of the House and Senate earlier this month.

Of course, none of these stories is related beyond the fact that they speak to the power governments have over the evolution of telecommunications. It's interesting that two of the items suggest less intrusion (the Canadian and Net Neutrality stories) and two suggest more (the Chinese attitude to 3G and the AT&T/BellSouth merger delay).

Overall, the general trend seems to be toward a bit more freedom. The reason isn't that governments are developing more open minds or tender hearts. It's that the nature of the Internet and other new platforms makes it harder for Big Brother to keep a lid on things.

Governments may simply be reading the writing on the wall. For instance, instead of a handful of television stations over which it is relatively easy to ride herd, the last few decades have seen the introduction of cable television, direct broadcast satellite and, finally, Internet-based video. Similarly, there are far more and varied options on voice communications than there were before the Internet emerged.

It's also likely that no matter what the political philosophy of a nation, it sees the benefits that come from convergence applications. China is a good example of this. Governments know that industries -- from button-making to telecommunications -- won't realize their potential if they are hamstrung by regulators.

Each case is a unique scenario, of course. The bottom line is that corporate planners and even IT departments that do the actual hands-on work should recognize that the government is an important partner at the table as new technology rolls out. What decisions these bodies come up with will drastically change the reality on the ground.

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