Dissolving the telecoms regulator is a terrible idea: Google Voice, AT&T, and telecommunications regulation

Apple has an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S., stirring up rumors that AT&T was the one behind Apple rejecting Google Voice. How could AT&T not object? AT&T clings to the old business of charging for voice calls in minutes. It takes not much more than 10 kilobits per second of data to handle voice. In a world of megabit per-second connections, that’s nothing???hence Google’s proposal to offer voice calls for no cost and heap on features galore.

What this episode really uncovers is that AT&T is dying. AT&T is dragging down the rest of us by overcharging us for voice calls and stifling innovation in a mobile data market critical to the U.S. economy.

This article is bleak about telecommunications competition in the US, but in Canada, the situation is even worse. We have fewer choices, pay more, and have fewer features.

This article by Andy Kessler in the Wall Street Journal points out that the FCC is taking a closer look at competition and regulation in the American wireless market as a result of Google Voice being rejected as an iPhone apps. In the absence of good regulatory oversight, this is a market in which incumbents like AT&T have had the power to keep prices high and limit innovation.

At the same time, in Canada, the CRTC has held hearings on network neutrality and has released a number of decisions on internet service and related issues. Despite this activity — or perhaps as a result of what much of the community perceives as the CRTC’s lack of understanding of the wireless and internet markets for most Canadians — there is widespread frustration with the CRTC.

This week, that frustration took form as a petition calling for the CRTC to be dissolved, initiated by an Ottawa software developer. The petition has almost 1500 signatures as of this writing.

Scrapping the CRTC is a terrible idea — almost absurd, really. The telecommunications and broadcasting markets need to be regulated, and the CRTC is the organization we have to do it in Canada. It may need reform, or more technological expertise, but the idea of dissolving it is counterproductive and utterly without merit.

I will not be signing the petition. I will be watching it, however, and participating where I can in the conversations it sparks on Twitter and on Facebook.

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