PA PUC: do not pass go
by Albert Paschall
Getting my kids to play Monopoly is impossible.
Rich Uncle Penny Bagsí classic board game that moves little pewter top
hats around Boardwalk and Park Place trying to pass go to get $200 just
doesnít cut it.
Theyíd much rather use cable wires to beat cross-town buddies in
zapping the evil death star.
The death star comes with 64 dimensions and digital sound so owning
Marvin Gardens with a house is as exciting as cutting the grass.
They know that two hundred bucks just about covers a couple of months of
cable time. And
the only hope for fun when the old Monopoly board gets dusted off is the promise
that early on a fight over the rules will break out scattering the players back
to video game controllers that seem to be welded to their hands.
Who can blame them?
People under 30 expect to be able to instantaneously transmit their moves
around the globe while those born just a decade earlier find this ability to be
either myth, magic or marvelous.
Anybody born after 1970 figures that Monopoly is a game sold by college
alumni associations to make a few bucks on nostalgia.
Nobody really plays it on cardboard anymore do they?
Load it on the hard drive and gear up the modem and on a slow day at work
you can beat the guy down the hall to owning every hotel on every hot property.
Itís all done before that little pewter shoe could move one block.
Unfortunately the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission doesnít know
this, based on their recent decision to send local phone competition straight
into lock up. The
Commissioners wearing their high button shoes, spats and shiny derbies,
deliberating with Benny Goodman blaring from the phonograph slowly cast the dice
claiming to end a monopoly.
Unfortunately they made their move and then decided to change the rules
sending the whole game board crashing to the floor and scattering the players
and it may take years, or a judge, to get them all back to the table.
The problem with the telecommunications monopoly game in Pennsylvania is
that the banker - the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission - doesnít exactly
cheat, it just keeps changing the rules every time a player makes a move.
The written rule from the big game maker, the Federal Government, is that
all consumers, personal and business, can choose their local and long-distance
While some say the Fedís simplistic approach to a highly technical
matter gives new meaning to the term lip service it is a simple enough concept
Not in Pennsylvania even though on the national level itís worked for
nearly 20 years.
You can hear a pin drop across the country but the same companies,
AT&T, Sprint and MCI-Worldcom have never offered to carry your call across
the street. If
your computer demands the hyperaction of coaxial instant data transmission your
local unregulated cable TV company will sell it to you.
However with cableís municipal monopoly you wonít have a choice of
service and youíll pay what they demand, when they demand it.
The PUC thinks thatís fine.
The commissionís telecommunications de-regulation finding that was
wildly applauded by AT&T, Sprint and MCI essentially says that the only open
competitor to these international giants, Bell Atlantic, could not go into the
long distance business.
Yet it permits the big three to run all over the board grabbing up all
the big customers.
The PUC made some vague promise to eventually let Bell play the game but
with this confounding decision it seems Bellís shareholders would have to pay
themselves for business theyíve already earned.
The Commissioners wondered why Bell didnít like the decision.
No local competition and no additional long distance competition tells
Bell shareholders and consumers in the state that they can't pass go when it
comes to modern phone technology and real choice. Its too bad that Morse code
was discontinued last month maybe the message could have been telegraphed to the
Commissioners that it is 1999.
For a whole generation weíve owned our own phones, chosen our long
distance service, even watched paid movies on our TV and this marvelous new
invention, the Internet, lets us play games with people all over the world.
Competitive markets have worked.
We make our own choices and if we donít like it we can go somewhere
else or not subscribe at all.
Of whatever biological age we are the electronic children and no
government can tell us how we like to play the game.
Some day soon in the interest of advancing our technological
infrastructure the PUC will make and stick
with one set of rules to end the phone monopoly and have real competition in
Pennsylvania, in the meantime pass the dice.
Albert Paschall is senior commentator for the Lincoln Institute, a non-profit educational foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. ” Calvin-Graham Enterprises 1999. www.lincolninstitute.org.
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