Will competition prevail in telecommunications?

Our industry looks like kids fighting in the schoolyard. We need to stop this behavior and work together.

Our industry looks like kids fighting in the schoolyard. We need to stop this behavior and work together.

Ronald G. Provost

rgp Consulting Inc.

The situation in the telecommunications industry today brings to mind the famous line of comedienne Joan Rivers: "Can we talk?"

Those of you who have read my articles or heard me speak know that I carry the bicsi banner for fair licensing for all competent people. I believe that those who wish to participate in this industry should be required to demonstrate their competence through experience, education, and testing. Our customers deserve nothing less. But based on what is happening in various quarters today, it is clear to me that we are in trouble. A certain segment of our industry is attempting to remove competition and reintroduce a monopoly, where it would be the only entity that is permitted to do the work.

In 1983, at&t and the United States Department of Justice achieved a landmark agreement that broke up the monopoly at&t exercised through its Bell System and opened the telecommunications industry to competition. Before that decision, in 1977, the Federal Communications Commission ordered the regional Bell operating companies to open their networks to permit the connection of customer- provided equipment and systems. Three years ago, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which finalized the federal government`s position on competition. The deregulation of the telecommunications industry was complete, and the monopoly of the Bells was eliminated, creating a whole new approach to telecommunications services and equipment sales. New businesses were created. Instead of calling Ma Bell for services, consumers could choose from numerous service providers.

In the last few years, however, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (ibew) has tried to "corner the market" by sponsoring legislation that would exclude everyone except members of that union from obtaining a license to install telecommunications systems. If such legislation is passed, the license will be mandatory, so if you are not a member of the ibew you will be forced out of business.

Having spent a good portion of my career in the Bell System, I recognize this as an attempt to re-legislate a monopolistic environment. Look at what happened in Rhode Island a few years ago: The legislature passed a law that required anyone who installs telecommunications systems to be a licensed electrician. This meant that all the telecommunications contractors would have to either close down or become electricians. The telecommunications contractors in Rhode Island fought hard, and the law was overturned. After a long, drawn-out negotiation, another law was passed that recognized the telecommunications industry as a separate entity and established a licensing program for telecommunications workers.

These arguments can continue forever. I understand that there is a need to protect the membership of an organization. But that protection should not be legislated to the detriment of others in the same industry. The need for competition brought about the divestiture of the Bell System and created the industry we have today. However, in today`s world, our industry looks like 10-year-old school kids fighting in the schoolyard: "It`s mine!" "No, it`s mine!"

Worse yet, the consumer has to wonder about signing multithousand-dollar contracts with members of an industry that cannot figure out how to do business. We need to stop this behavior and work together.

In an effort to open a dialog on this critical matter, I am offering myself as the unofficial host of a forum to bring all interested parties to the conference table. If we do not begin to talk to each other, we will continue to spend huge amounts of time, money, and energy in lobbying.

In the end, we will wind up with a patchwork of laws in individual jurisdictions that will be unsatisfactory to everyone. Continuing this public fight will destroy any credibility we have left as professionals in the telecommunications industry.

Ronald G. Provost, registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) and governmental relations representative for BICSI (Tampsa, FL), is principal of RGP Consulting Inc. (Woodcliff Lake, NJ). He can be reached through BICSI at tel: (813) 979-1991 or (800)242-7405.

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