California Needs to Focus on the Future of Communications… Not the Past

Dr. James Prieger
James E. Prieger, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University

California has a track record of defining the nation’s technology future. Ever since Silicon Valley overtook Boston’s Route 128 as the nation’s technology hub, California’s been at the forefront.

Access to new technology, upgraded infrastructure and the Internet are a large part of that future. Internet Protocol is the language that future speaks. We use the Internet at home, at work, and everywhere in between. Broadband propels the economy forward. We’re close to making Internet access nearly universal in California.

More than 130 providers offer high speed Internet in the state. Speeds have nearly doubled in recent years. Upwards of 96% of Californians can get Internet access speeds of 10 Mbps or higher.

Even so, one in five Californians doesn’t use the Internet. The question in front of us now: how do we make broadband and Internet services even more widely used in California? Public policy can play an important role, but it won’t if the rules and regulations focus on last century’s phone network.

California must consider modernizing its policies to encourage widespread use of, and investment in, advanced technology. As the Internet takes over, the communications platform of the past, “Plain Old Telephone Service” (POTS) is rapidly approaching irrelevance. Residential consumers dropped nearly 20% of POTS lines in one recent year, between 2012 and 2013, shedding more than a million lines. Less than one in ten California residential voice lines are now POTS. Yet, many of California’s rules and regulations are geared towards supporting that outdated technology.

We need to focus on the future. Encouraging companies to help consumers make the leap away from POTS to new technology such as broadband and VoIP is critical. As is modernizing California’s universal service programs. There’s no reason, for example, why California’s “Lifeline” program, which lowers the cost of communication for low income households, should apply only to phones when everybody knows the Internet is the future. Last week the federal Lifeline program was expanded to include broadband—now it is California’s turn to follow suit.

Focusing on the past and lack of flexibility is how Route 128 fell behind. It’s a losing strategy. The willingness of Silicon Valley to let the best solution win, even if it disrupts yesteryear’s comfortable ways of doing things, is the right approach in a quickly changing technological world. Policymakers should support, not hinder, California’s leadership in technology.

James E. Prieger, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University

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