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States Likely to Have Extensive, Expanding Role in Communications Landscape

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WASHINGTON, April 2, 2009 - The role of states in the communications landscape were discussed in a Wednesday panel of state public utility commissioners at the Cable Show here.

Among the issues explored included: “network diversity,” regulatory treatment of voice over internet protocol, or (VoIP), cable telephony, demand for broadband, universal service and inter-carrier compensation.

“From franchise authorization to telecom authorization, state policy makers have the power to shape the communications landscape on a range of issues,” said Richard Cimerman, vice president for state government affairs at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

The panel of four all agreed on the supervisory and regulatory role of states, before delving into the experiences of their individual states.

John Burke, a member at the Vermont Public Service Board, said state involvement in 21st century communications policy would create more jobs and avoid wastage of money.

“Involving states in spending stimulus funds for technology is a better answer that may preserve some of those dollars,” he said.

Of households in Vermont, 66 percent have broadband, he said. And he pleaded: “Give us incentives to feel a part of this process.”

The debate in rural America, he said, was not just one of access, but also affordability.

Robert Clayton III, of the Missouri Public Service, said his state had benefited from the “Missouri transform initiative,” a group of agencies bringing together “geniuses.”

There was, he said, a 75 percent deployment, but he lamented that the state still does not have jurisdiction over some inter-carrier and regulatory issues.

Tim Simon, of the California Public Utilities Commission, said his state had set up an emergency technical fund, complete with a chief information officer.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most aggressive Republican Governor in this country,” he said.

Elia Germani, chairman of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, said he was uncertain about the status of broadband-related affairs in his state. He wanted further clarification on who the unserved and underserved are.

Germani also said the Federal Communications Commission should hold public hearings on issues that matter.

He also warned on what he viewed as the false promise of “level playing grounds,” saying no one would want a level field owing to competing interests by lobbyists.

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