Sunday, June 10, 2007

Slapping a Grown-up Baby Bell...

Telecommunications are on the table in Massachusetts these days. Efforts are underway to repeal exemptions to certain property taxes that could yield millions to Bay State cities and towns at the expense of mostly Verizon New England, the official name of Verizon's Massachusetts and Rhode Island Operations (their VT, NH, and ME ops have been spun-off in preparation of a sale to a rural phone operations company).

At the same time, a bill is before the Legislature that would permit the state rather than individual municipalities to issue franchises to provide cable TV services. Verizon has been spending billions to upgrade its entire network to roll-out high(er) speed Internet and its FIOS television service.

Before I go on, it is essential to note that I come from a Verizon household. However, I believe that this makes me MORE able to discuss this intelligently instead of hindered by bias.

Verizon employs a great number of people in Greater Springfield, but in the city especially. These are good paying jobs, union jobs, jobs Springfield and indeed all of Massachusetts NEED. The union and the company are also united in these legislative fights as evidenced by the ads taken out by Verizon and the IBEW and CWA, the two unions that represent telephone workers. Many jobs have been driven out because of Massachusetts' high costs and, gulp, taxes. International economic pressures and trade pacts doomed Springfield Wire's plant, but such is not the case with Verizon.

Many sit back and say "They're the phone company they can't outsource!" WRONG. Verizon still employs many office workers in repair, sales, and dispatch. Granted the company has been attempting to move these jobs to India and the like, but why should we be making the unions' jobs tougher by assisting. And for what? A few puny millions a year only to be cancelled out by idled employees? Oh, and the satisfaction that we protected cable customers from something, undefinable, but sinister, of course. I liken it to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlift Refuge in Alaska. We drill (destroy) a natural treasure only to get very little oil.

The cable debate is particularly preposterous. If its taking 15 months for Verizon to gain franchises that is ridiculous. I could care about the arguments about competition, but they do raise a point when the cable company can use the Internet to creep into the phone business, but the phone company cannot. The municipalities are simply trying to hang onto one of the few areas of local control they have. That does not justify such delays. The cities and towns meanwhile are trying to portray their case as an altruistic effort to protect the people, as if there is some grave abuse by cable companies denying the people access to their HBO and MTV and FOX News. They say that Verizon will cherry pick the areas of the cities they serve to make the most money e.g Sixteen Acres, but not Six Corners. The bill in question specifically prevents this. Further amendments could be offered to make sure that existing cable companies and Verizon work together to maintain existing public access networks.

The true bulk of the opposition is coming from Comcast, the state largest cable provider and other cable companies. They do not want the competition, but Verizon never got such a say when the cable companies starting muscling into the telephone. Consumer notice: the service stinks relative to Plain Old Telephone. But still, a double standard is clearly in force under the guise of consumer advocacy.

Either way, local officials are girding for a fight that isn't worth fighting and certainly is not worth winning. The taxes are one thing, but if that bill (the tax one) is passed, the legislature MUST let Verizon get franchises for cable anywhere it wants. Even if it is not passed, Verizon should be given something, like a law mandating the local cable boards reach an agreement within 60 days.

Some cynics and self-proclaimed public advocates will dismiss my words as simply a refusal to bite the hand that quite literally has fed me and some of my other family members. Rather it is just a common sense argument to secure investments and jobs from a multi billion dollar company, a large Massachusetts (and Springfield) employer, and an essential part of the national infrastructure.

1 comment:

TV10 said...

SO allowing Comcast to over price everything, making it to the point where people can't afford cable tv is a good idea too then? come on grow up! Verizon is going to help change this backward state by allowing competition...