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State's telecom rules need updating to spur economy

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Thad Nation
December 29, 2010

As our economy continues to struggle, Wisconsin must find a way to create jobs and stimulate investment, while simultaneously balancing a projected $3.3 billion budget deficit. This is no easy task, but a change to Wisconsin’s telecom laws could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs—all without cost to the state.


Wisconsin’s telecom laws are firmly rooted in the past. The last time they were updated—in 1994—the vast majority of consumers only had telecom service through old copper line technologies. As such, regulations were needed to ensure that consumers were charged fair rates and received quality services.


Today, consumers have options available that include cellular, voice-over-Internet protocol and broadband. Traditional landline phones are no longer in demand as they once were. Yet our state still requires telecom providers to invest resources in those outdated technologies that consumers no longer want.


By modernizing our laws to reflect the change in technology and the change in consumer demand, we can encourage companies to invest in the technologies consumers want and expand access to those technologies.


Increased investment from modern telecom laws would have a significant impact on economic development. A recent study, commissioned by Wired Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Technology Council, found that updating the state’s telecom rules would create or retain 50,000 jobs and have an economic impact of $2.6 billion at no cost to the state.


These figures are in line with the economic impact we have seen after other Midwestern states passed modernized telecom laws this past year. A Wired Wisconsin report, based on data compiled by Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow and the Illinois Technology Partnership, found that Ohio and Illinois have seen more than $1 billion in combined investment and 28,000 new jobs in the past few months alone.


Ohio, which passed its version of updated telecom laws in June, has had $540 million invested in broadband infrastructure, new data centers, and other projects, along with 20,000 new jobs, since July 1. Illinois has seen $520 million invested and 8,400 new jobs since it passed its legislation in May. Indiana, Michigan and Iowa also have passed telecom reform in recent years.


Wisconsin can’t afford to fall behind other states when it comes to promoting telecom investment. Not only will we miss out on economic development opportunities and new jobs, but many consumers will miss out on the newest technologies that infrastructure investment would bring.


Given the benefits of modernizing Wisconsin’s telecommunications laws, it should come as no surprise that 61 organizations, including Wired Wisconsin, recently signed onto a letter urging Gov.-elect Scott Walker and the incoming leadership in the Legislature to make updated telecom rules a priority next year. The special session planned for January to focus on job creation is the perfect opportunity for legislators and Walker to put Wisconsin on even footing with other Midwestern states in encouraging telecom investment.


Given the state of our economy, we can’t afford to let this opportunity slip through our fingers.


Thad Nation is executive director of Wired Wisconsin, the Wisconsin-based project of Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition, nonprofit organization of individual consumers interested in technology, broadband and telecommunication issues with state projects throughout the Midwest. Readers can reach Nation at (414) 344-1733.

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