Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
This winter, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed sweeping telecommunications legislation by overwhelming majorities, and President Clinton quickly signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Mainly deregulatory in thrust, the law has been over a decade in the making and is the first major change in telecommunications law since the Depression.
The main provisions of the law affect long-distance carriers, local telephone companies and cable-TV providers. For the most part, these companies are giants in the telecommunications industry and will be able to compete with each other, set their own rates and buy one another. The measure is expected to lower long-distance rates, possibly increase local telephone and cable-TV rates, and lead to new TV programming and services.
But what does the new telecommunications law mean to smaller companies, including cable and component manufacturers, distributors, cabling contractors, systems integrators and the many other businesses that depend on networking technology? In a word, it means business.
To date, industry observers have focused on the big picture, but enough facts have emerged to permit a few observations:
- Like most others in the industry who have expressed their opinions publicly, we at Cabling Installation & Maintenance feel that the new law is a step forward. Freeing companies to compete with each other should mean better products and services at lower prices.
- The next year or so is going to be a time of rapid change--and this is not only because the major players are already staking out their territories. The Congressional law must be converted into rules by the Federal Communications Commission. We should carefully watch this rule-making process, projected to take a year or more--our livelihoods may depend on it.
- As we have seen repeatedly, the business trends, developing technologies and changing standards that govern the telecommunications giants and the public network they service eventually filter down to the physical layer and dramatically affect those people working on private networks. So, keep a watchful eye on the feeding frenzy that is shaping the financial, technological and standards arenas of the near future.
If we can stay current with the information that deluges us daily, if we can convert that information into useful knowledge, and if we are shrewd enough to use our knowledge to enrich our businesses, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 could become the benchmark for growth in the cabling industry--an industry that was already healthy and successful before that legislation was enacted.