Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Telecommunications rewrite on the horizon

By Rachel Wells

Rebuild the state’s Telecommunications Act and new jobs will follow, one industry group predicts.

The Illinois Technology Partnership, a coalition of business, technology and telecommunications organizations, today called on the General Assembly to modernize the regulatory legislation. The Act was first drafted in 1985 and updated in subsequent years but not enough to keep pace with new technologies, according to the partnership.

“Since that time significant advancement in technology has been made, but the legislation is still focused on the regulatory climate in 1985,” said Lindsay Mosher, ITP executive director. “The act is focused on copper line and wire line technologies when the rest of the world has moved over to fiber optic and mobile.”

Mosher, who was backed by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and several technology-based businesses, said new companies are passing over Illinois in favor of states such as Indiana and Ohio, which have already addressed their telecommunications frameworks.

Mosher wouldn’t specify what changes she thinks are needed to modernize the act.

Sen. Michael Bond, a Grayslake Democrat who heads the Telecommunications and Technology Committee, agreed the act needs updated.

“That is a top priority this session,” Bond said. “If you look at the current telecom act, it’s really a mid-80s sort of act.” He added that technology these days – cellular phones and Internet-based phone service, for instance – can be unrecognizable from that available more than 20 years ago.

Bond said conversations with interested parties – such as cable, wireless and traditional technology companies – will start next week, and he hopes to push a few related bills through the legislature this spring. What exactly that legislation will include is still an unknown, but he said it will require balancing the interests of both the telecommunications industry and consumers.

Bond expects much of the early conversation with industry representatives to focus on free-market strategies, while dialogue with consumer groups will likely center on vulnerable populations – those without ready access to high-speed wireless Internet and those, like the elderly, who are unlikely to switch to newer technologies.


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