Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sorrento emulates the FCC

Earlier I complained that EATel is turning into a wanna-be AT&T. Today my complaint is that the town of Sorrento is emulating the FCC.

Come on folks, in this day and age Federal regulatory practices are no more worthy of being copied than are the corporate practices of national monopolies.

The Advocate briefly reports that Sorrento Town Council has followed it decision to allow EATel to serve only the easiest to get to and most profitable of its citizens with a "fair" decision to allow Cox to do the same.

Fair to whom? Certainly not to the citizens who, you would think, would be the primary concern of Council members.

The reason that Sorrento has any say is that both Cox and EATel need to use the town's rights-of-way property to run the cables that are necessary for their private, for-profit business. So they sign a contract (the "franchise" agreement) with the town which trades use of Sorrento's property rights for a share of the income generated and other conditions favorable to the citizen's who own that property in common.

Historically the most noticeable pro-consumer condition put on a private provider seeking to use community property is that they agree to serve all citizens-not just the most profitable few. Businesses were require to serve the bottoms as well as the hills. Sorrento is abandoning that tradition.

Cox, it must be said in their favor, has already met the more consumer-friendly requirements and is unlikely to abandon already-paid-for infrastructure. So it will be "stuck" with the least-profitable segments anyway. The benefit to them lies largely in the future, in establishing the principle of fair play, and in feeling a little less abused.

The idea of encouraging "competition" by granting one competitor an anti-consumer advantage and then, in the interests of "fairness" allowing the same advantage a few months later to the well-established incumbent was pioneered by the geniuses at the Federal Communication Commission. It's a cute little game in which both sides of the supposed opponents get to cut back on their responsibilities to the consumer while the FCC gets to pretend that it 1) has actually encouraged competition, and 2) has been fair when the net effect boils down to it having abdicating its primary responsibility to protect the citizens of the country. We saw this on the federal level as cable companies entered the phone business and it is being repeated as phone companies move into video.

It's a malign pattern.

And there is no reason for local governments to play that game.

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