WASHINGTON, September 3, 2014 - A group of leading telecommunications providers in June announced the creation of a new trade group, dubbed “Customers for Competition,” at the same location at the Library of Congress where the 1996 Telecommunications Act was signed at the Library of Congress 18 years ago.
“We will be building stories from all over the country, from customers who benefit from competition,” said Former Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., CEO of COMPTEL, a trade group of competitive telecommunications carriers. “There is a broad group of business, individuals and communities that believe in the same principles of competition."
Back in 1996, no one had broadband in their homes, said guest speaker Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Today, "12-year olds believe it's a constitutional right." Broadband’s prevalence and the nation's reliance on it has united both sides of the political aisle on maintaining a free-market driven internet, he said.
Markey was joined by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., former Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley, Jr., R-Va., and Former Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., who shared similar sentiments. Former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps even said the U.S. "has never had a more crying need for legislation and regulation" promoting competition.
"We have some competition and we're proud of it," Copps said, "but we could have so much more."
Members from various competitive providers including XO Communications, and Rural Health Telecom also spoke at the event and boiled competition's benefits down to: choice, price and service.
"[Competition] drives us everyday to do better...to innovate and provide those services that customers need in order to do the things they do across the spectrum of businesses they represent," said Chris Ancell, CEO of XO Communications. "To make that network work, competition needs to continue to be in place. We need to continue to have interconnection between all the networks that are out there...to have access to locations that are fundamental to businesses in terms of providing their services."
Without competition, the Internet could descend into the same flawed monopoly that existed under the telephone system, Markey said.
"We had one phone company - 1.2 million employees, conveniently with employees in all 435 congressional districts," Markey said. "Because we only had one phone company, consumers suffered, businesses suffered, innovation suffered."
In a competitive environment, providers like Rural Health Telecom can offer the best possible technology to rural health care providers, which will save time, money and lives, said CEO of Rural Health Telecom Tim Koxlien.
Koxlien reminisced about how his grandfather used to stay at his family farm out in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin.
"There was telemedicine that helped my grandfather, at the time, stay in that house - just a little simple thing of having a call button to say 'I need help' in the middle of nowhere in West Central Wisconsin," Koxlien said. "The technology's changed a lot and it's through innovation that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 [made possible] ...promoting and pursuing better tele-health legislation that can help us do more than just having a button around a person's neck."
Apart from the improvements technological booms could make to standards of living, Public Knowledge President Gene Kimmelman said the Internet is above all "about freedom of expression" and the ability for people to exercise their basic rights to participate in a democracy.
"The 1996 Telecom Act was the future back then. It is the future today. It is the future tomorrow," said Markey, "because it embraces and embodies the principles that are essential to guaranteeing that we have an ongoing revolution in technology and accessibility within our society."