(1) expansion of wireless communications like cellular and low power personal communications service (PCS) to all parts of the globe;
(2) Fiber networks will be built for faster more reliable networks to allow for;
(3) virtual reality software and hardware along with;
(4) access to extensive databases at very fast speeds that will allow multimedia and distance learning to flourish;
(5) Offices will become more paperless and use;
(6) flat panel low or no radio frequency emmitions;
(7) Power companies will be providing technologies that allow consumers to buy lower cost power based on user demand and demand side management technologies that use two way communications and home monitoring systems at the same time power companies can diversify into traditional high financial return communications services.
The Information Super Highway
While the information highway has been a popular success, it has received mixed reviews in terms of its usefulness. On the positive side, the phrase provides a simple visual image that is easy to grasp. The phrase has inspired numerous articles and conferences. On the down side, the term does not offer much guidance in understanding how a pervasive information infrastructure might evolve and how it will operate if there are multiple providers and no standards. Because the term is based on an analogy with physical transportation, it fails to suggest any of the distinctive new applications that the new technology will make possible. Nor does it point out the remarkable energy that is being captured by the combination of computer technology and communications. Most of all, it does not point out the problems like privacy of data, need for more resources to carry the 20% per month growth, possibility of off shore investments and the effect on USA economy, corporate diversification, customer demands for reliability, universal service and prevention of redlining, and intercompany competitive battles over interconnection and monopolistic practices to name a few.
The changes in telecommunications have been a major force in the different providers in the market along with the uses by the consumer. However, the formidable structure of the monopolies that exist and the failure of government to provide the incentives necessary for change (forcing monopolies to lose market share and give customers choice of providers and service) have hindered the development and full convergence of the various industries. Some of the policies that need change have been articulated in a number of reports, but the one written by the Ameritech Regional Regulatory Committee (4-1-95) is still the most comprehensive in pointing out 23 (compensation, competitive service pricing, consumer protection, monitoring, cooperation, discrimination, integration, interconnection, franchise restrictions, number portability, numbering, resale, right of way, standards, universal service, subscription, billing, unbundling, local exchange certification, collocation, provision of databases, service quality, ) different barriers to full convergence and competition by multiple providers. The multiple providers entering the market consist of companies like telephone equipment providers, private facility carriers (fiber providers, high speed data providers and special video two-way providers), long distance facility providers and resellers (over fiber, satellite or resold long distance bulk services), billing and collection providers, alternative operator service providers, customer owned coin operated telephones, cellular/personal communications or wireless providers, alternative local access providers and new power companies who sell spare capacity on their fiber facilities or cable companies who are putting in two-way data and video facilities.
While convergence is no new phenomenon, it is simply an extension of the technological information society revolution that we are in, and have been in, for more than 40 years now. From the standpoint of businesses that are affected by this revolution, virtually every business is affected. The most important consequence of this ongoing revolution is the way in which it has abolished the traditional limits on how companies operate. The future is going to be inhabited by a new class of worker, the global telecommuting knowledge worker. This worker will use a convergence of voice, data, video in a multimedia format to create an open market to barter trade and conduct business in light speeds around the universe. This will bring about new ways of learning, training and research that will either propel us into a world economy or create new classes of workers: those who have, and those who have not the jobs, money, and power. All of this convergence of industries into communications has not made life easier for the consumer. In fact, consumer complaints are on the rise and more ad more consumers are experiencing unscrupulous business practices. Consumers of telecommunications service are having to learn a whole new set of buying skills, and governments are needing to develop a whole new set of ground rules for consumer protection.
There are signs that a real convergence is beginning to occur between the telephone and cable industries again, since the 1974 required divestiture of the cable services from the telephone companies. Several telephone companies have started to invest in cable operators or have purchased individual cable systems and courts have found that the divestiture was contrary to first amendment rights of the telephone companies. Most of the regional bell operating companies have begun to experiment with the delivery a video dial tone that would provide subscribers with access to both conventional and possibly interactive video programing. Sprint has entered into a joint venture with three major cable operators to develop local telephone services and the next generation of cellular services called personal communications service. The problem with this is monopoly telecommunications companies could be cross-subsidizing these ventures and causing situations that will prevent new market entrants from entering the market and allowing competition to flourish. Power companies have invested in Norlight, WILTEL and other long distance and private network providers. Power companies are working to change federal law to allow the holding companies to invest in these telecommunications type ventures. Entergy has applied to provide local service in two states where it serves and companies like Detroit Edison have started putting fiber on their neutral wires. Others are discussing ventures with other companies, like the cable and long distance companies, in order to be full service providers. All this raises cross subsidy and market predation questions that need to be addressed.
Some consumers are hoping that the new technologies may allow firms to profitably market such services as video on demand and high speed information delivery. In order to provide these new services, carriers are widely deploying fiber optic cable and have plans to install switching machines/computers that will allow customers to easily access the new products. Currently, state policy makers are examining the opening of the local telephone markets to competition. At the same time, potential competitors are trying to offer services in the downtown low-cost business areas of some cities (like Grand Rapids and Detroit). Local telephone companies have advocated that rural residential telephone rates be increased to make up for the competition in low cost markets and eliminate so called mythical subsidies to residential customers. Policy makers have frozen rates or put constraints on the increases for these residential rates temporarily in many locations. However, governments normally don't address the real problems directly. Like Michael Ported said in his book, Competitive Advantage of Nations, infrastructure development is critical for government. The responsibility of government is to set critical technical standards (like weights and measure), eliminate subsidies where they exist, provide an innovative environment that allows fair competition and does not benefit one provider. Government needs to set clear goals to be achieved (like two-way video available to all residents by 2001), standards to be met (like transmission quality should be as good as HDTV) and then measure market activity to make sure meets the goals in a timely manner (require published rates for all service, require published terms and conditions for all services, require resale to prevent predatory pricing, require published service results on all levels of customer interface).
The offering of these new technologies and competitive services by new market entrants will be done through facilities generally shared and interconnected with traditional voice services of the monopoly telephone companies. Rival competitors to the monopoly providers, as well as consumer groups, have expressed their concerns that these new products may be subsidized by traditional voice services. The legislative and regulatory proceedings are often confused with the allegations and concerns of subsidies flowing to and from services. The issue of the size and direction of subsidies is critical in many policy decisions. Local exchange companies have argued that entry into their markets should be delayed until economic subsidies have been eliminated. Traditional monopoly providers have argued that in order to have a level playing field, subsidies have to be eliminated or new competitors should be required to make contributions to universal service that the incumbent provides in non-competitive areas.
Testing for subsidies is essential to allow competition to begin and prevent predatory and anticompetitive practices. The measure for subsidy should be the lesser of the two standardsÑ economic cost or actual accounting for long run incremental cost. However, in this market that is basically becoming digital computer technology one would expect the market cost and long run incremental cost to both be declining costs. Therefore local rates and subsidies should be declining if rates are frozen and competition is allowed to occur over time.
Education and Technology
There are thousands of articles on the use of technology in education. Although there are now millions of computers in the schools, research suggests that their impact has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Under ideal conditions technology can encourage more interactive learning and involvement of students, parents and the business community. This collaborative learning and more interdisciplinary and inquiry based learning will only make the worker more competitive in today's market. But, not surprisingly, the success of technology in schools depends in a great part on the willingness and ability of the teachers to use technology effectively. Teachers need to turn loose the technology, let the student use it, and integrate it into every part of the learning process the same way that paper, books, desks, pencils and pens are part of the learning process.
The explosion of multimedia applications for learning, the linking of entertainment and education technologies, and the use of telecommunications to connect learning in different settings is further enhancing the impact on education. However, the technology, no matter how powerful, will do little to improve learning unless it is linked to a broader effort to reform education, and there is a comprehensive effort by all parties, government, education and the providers of the infrastructure to integrate the technology with a unified goal and set of non-proprietary standards that is universally provided to all at low cost and reasonable terms and conditions.
Right now this issue of how to deploy the technology is being debated at all levels of government. The education community has suggestions for the Michigan Communications Act rewrite. While education needs to be considered and goals set for the providers of the infrastructure to meet their needs, care needs to be made so that competitors all have an equal chance to compete for education's business. Funds should be set up that minimally provide education the monies to competitively seek innovative providers of services to meet their needs.
Section 1291 of Public Act 335 of 1993 includes language which requires that not later than June 30, 1995, the Department of Management and Budget shall prepare a state plan for the creation of a Michigan Information Network. This Network will link each local and intermediate school district, community college, independent nonprofit college or university located in this state, and state public university and each state, local or regional library on an equal basis by fiber optic, or coaxial cable, or other comparable system allowing a world-class statewide interactive video and data access and exchange system. The Michigan Information Network Planning Committee has been convened to assist the Governor's Office and Department of Management and Budget as a mechanism to ensure that education, health care providers, local and regional units of government, and others are involved in the planning process for this interactive telecommunications network.
The Michigan Information Network Planning Committee has developed a capability statement, which will be instrumental in guiding further development of this network. The mission and capabilities statement adopted by the Planning Committee is:
The mission of the Michigan Information Network (MIN) is to ensure that Michigan has a network which integrates data, video, and voice. Such a network will allow users to connect as easily, efficiently, and cost effectively as possible to local, state, national and international networks. The network and integration function should be so robust and easy to use that each person's connection is limited only by the capability of a user's information appliance and the last mile connectivity provided.
The systems should be responsive to an individual using an information appliance having access to a world-wide information source.
Phase I would integrate two-way interactive capability including:
1. Digital video allowing full motion video; Examples: video conferencing on customer select basis, simulation of product design, interactive distance learning;
2. High Speed burst data, Examples: connection to Internet, real time credit verification, real time patient verification and record retrieval, real time data base access for such uses as electronic data interchange, etc.
3. High quality voice;
Phase II would integrate two-way interactive capability for:
1. High quality/high resolution video, Examples: virtual reality, move video files in real time, telemedicine diagnosis, etc.
2. High speed multimedia resource data, Examples: CD ROM, product and system simulation, etc.
Conclusion Multimedia is making a significant impact on learning, business and everyday life. As with any new technology, researchers often need to define the area and what goals are expected and them measure then through experimentation. Policy makers need to do the same thing for the telecommunication market. Technology can play an important role in effective education, business and government. While specific approaches, applications, or projects may not always be effective, overall technology can influence the market positively. The range of opportunities and options to impact seems boundless, particularly when technology based options will provide many information and learning sources of the future. There is growing acceptance that technology is integral to government, education and business and the future is too important to make a mistake.