Shining Light on RBOCs' Business

A telecom analyst's report should raise some eyebrows among those who want to build the NII and do business on solid, honest ground

f telecommunications analyst Bruce Kushnick is talking the truth (and we think he is), systems integrators, content providers, Internet service providers and just about anyone involved with building the forthcoming National Information Infrastructure had better read his report word by word.

On page 1 of this newspaper, staff writer Jorgen Wouters reports on Kushnick's chronicle of the Regional Bell Operating Companies' systematic overcharging for services since the Great Breakup of 1984. There's plenty of Oliver Stonesque stuff in there, though Kushnick stops short of aligning RBOCs with the Trilateral Commission.

What's more telling than Kushnick's analysis, however, is the RBOCs' general response to businesses and the public who have tried to determine how and why they pay what they pay for services, which is: No response at all.

How many businesses could get away with telling a customer to use the Freedom of Information Act to get simple facts on how the bottom line on an invoice is calculated? We all know the answer.

If that's the case, there's a frightening amount of power and arrogance concentrated in a very important place, smack near the scaffolding for the NII. And if business wants to do business right, it needs the basic facts behind the agreement for products delivered.

If the National Information Infrastructure is going to stand up to the lofty, Al-Gorean goals outlined for it, then the participants are going to have to be forthcoming about what they plan to charge, and who will carry the costs.

From where we sit, we're seeing an awful lot of monopoly-building going on. That's really dangerous, because monopolies breed institutional secrecy and arrogance, and what's more, they fall.

We all see what's happening to content-provider monopolies -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- trying to force a committee-determined, homogenized product down the public's throat via its airwaves. As businesses, we can't afford to make the same sorts of mistakes that spawned 120 cable channels, that dispersed NFL football across an obscure cable station and an upstart network, or that produce content-free pap that dulls the minds of our children.

Nope. Any infrastructure, if it's going to work, needs an open and accurate accounting of all the rivets, pipes, cement and whatnot going into its construction. It appears the RBOCs are resisting that accounting, and that's not in their best interest. Nor ours.

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