Rosalind Allen is the FCC's director of legal analysis at the Office of Plans and Policy liaison for the Local and State Government Advisory Committee (LSGAC). It took a century to warrant the reforms of the Telecom Act 1996; less than three years after its adoption, it is already becoming obsolete. While the breakneck speed of telecommunications convergence brings rapid change, there are guiding principles that will never be outdated. Allen, seeking to break down the barriers consumers face, knows that information is power.
Q: What type of advice and perspective have you gained from local and state government representatives, and how much of the advice you solicit as liaison to the Local and State Government Advisory Committee does the FCC act on in formulating policy?
A: It's been a real learning experience. My realization, which I know sounds like a very basic one, but it's really factored very heavily into all of my decisions, is that both the federal government and state and local governments are really all trying to serve the public interest in their own way. And while the inside-the-Beltway regulatory perspective has frequently been colored by what I would call "jurisdiction concerns" like, "Is this mine? Is this yours? Who gets to do it?" -- that's not a constructive approach.
The constructive approach is, "What is the average person in your community saying is the problem?" and, "Let's figure out what states are doing to address that problem" and, "How does that relate to things that we might be doing?" In other words, it's more of a collaborative than a jurisdictional approach.
Q: What citizen concerns seem to come up again and again?
A: Lots of people are complaining, "My cable bill just really keeps going up and it seems like I am getting fewer channels or my channels keep changing position, so as an average person I feel like I have paid more money for service that seems like it is not as satisfactory as it seemed a year ago."
There are several things going on here, though, that might inform that concern. One of them is that, very soon under the Telecom Act, cable rate reform will sunset. There is a very lively debate going on about what that might or might not do to cable rates. And there is a lot of political jockeying going on.
The way the act is structured, and this is not the '96 act but really the cable reform act which predated that, there is a sunset on rate regulation [this month]. Obviously, there has been a lot of forethought from both the cable companies and the franchising authorities on how to handle that.
Another thing we are doing that would also factor into that concern is DTV deployment: the must-carry issue of whether the agency should require cable systems to carry both the analog and the digital signal until such time as the level of penetration of the digital signal is received by the general population.
A final aspect is that, in the aftermath of the '96 act, you are seeing cable companies interested in being much more than just a cable company. They want to provide telecom service, they want to provide Internet service -- they want to be a full-service telecom provider.
Q: There's a convergence going on.
A: There's a convergence going on and cable is an engine for that. It's evident in some parts of the country, so as a result, there is a perception perhaps on the part of the average subscriber that, "Gee I'm not sure I'm ready for this convergence! I'm very used to having my cable operator be the source of video entertainment and now all of a sudden it seems as though my bill is going up