Technology convergence may widen the digital divide

May 17, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Technology is helping communication companies merge telephone, television and Internet services, but a push to deregulate may leave some customers on the wrong side of the digital divide during this convergence, according to a Penn State telecommunications researcher.

"Moving away from is an example of abandoning obsolete technology and embracing technology that is faster, better, cheaper and more convenient," said Rob Frieden, Pioneers Chair in and professor of telecommunications and law. "But the risk is that we may be creating a -- not necessarily a divide between the rich and poor, but between the informationrich and information poor."

are lobbying for to free them of their traditional role as a public utility, citing the convergence and availability of new communication technologies, such as cellular phones and , that make copper-based telephone land lines obsolete, according to Frieden. However, not all these alternatives are as affordable and as ubiquitous as copper landlines, a problem that could leave many rural residents underserved, he said.

The researcher, who presented his critique at the End of the Phone System workshop held at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, today (May 17), said that rural customers could replace land line telephones with cellular phones, for example, but most companies charge a fee for each minute of use -- metering -- while most fees for land lines are unmetered and are paid through a fixed monthly charge.

Frieden also doubts that will be as dependable as landlines.

"Cell phone companies have these colorful maps that show how well they cover areas," Frieden said. "But there are lots of places -- including places in rural Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York -- that do not have , or offer limited services not suitable for broadband, Internet access."

Fiber optic lines are glass wires that can carry voice, television and Internet signals. For instance, fiber optic equipment is often used for Voice Over Internet Protocol -- VOIP -- atechnology that uses broadband Internet to carry such services as voice, texting and fax.

While fiber optic lines are more common now, they are usually not found in rural or remote areas.

"The phone companies are right," said Frieden. "There are other forms of competition now, but these alternatives are not fair or adequate everywhere."

As communication technologies merge, telephone companies face stiff competition from cable companies, which are classified as information service providers by the government and face limited regulation. Frieden said that telephone companies, however, are regulated as a utility. As a utility, phone companies -- called carriers of last resort -- are obligated to provide service to customers. To increase profitability, telephone companies would like to be released from the carrier-of-last-resort designation that binds them to providing high-cost, labor-intensive telephone landline service.

Frieden said that the push to end the phone company's status as carriers of last resort may be the first steptoward complete deregulation.

While telephone company lobbyists suggest that the market forces will ensure that all customers will eventually receive equal service in a deregulated environment, Frieden is skeptical about this promise.

"Everyone wants to say, the marketplace is great," Frieden said. "But there's also something called market failure particularly in rural and low-income areas."

Explore further: Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

FCC to update phone subsidy program for broadband

Feb 07, 2011

(AP) -- The federal government spends more than $4 billion a year, collected from phone bills, to subsidize phone service in rural and poor areas. Now, it's considering ways to give those places more for the money: high-speed ...

Fiber-optic speeds achieved over copper lines

Apr 28, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent's research arm, has demonstrated industry record broadband download speeds of up to 300 Megabits per second using two traditional twisted pair copper telephone lines. ...

FCC set to unveil rules for rural broadband fund

Oct 26, 2011

Federal regulators are set to reveal their plan Thursday for an overhaul of the $8 billion fund that subsidizes phone service in rural areas and for the poor, with the goal of redirecting the money toward broadband expansion.

FCC unveils rules for rural broadband fund

Oct 27, 2011

Federal regulators have unveiled a plan for overhauling the $8 billion fund that subsidizes phone service in rural areas and for the poor. It redirects the money toward broadband expansion.

Recommended for you

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

Apr 17, 2014

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

Apr 16, 2014

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

Apr 16, 2014

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

Dish Network denies wrongdoing in $2M settlement

Apr 15, 2014

The state attorney general's office says Dish Network Corp. will reimburse Washington state customers about $2 million for what it calls a deceptive surcharge, but the satellite TV provider denies any wrongdoing.

Netflix's Comcast deal improves quality of video

Apr 14, 2014

Netflix's videos are streaming through Comcast's Internet service at their highest speeds in the past 17 months now that Netflix is paying for a more direct connection to Comcast's network.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...