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: DOCOMO and Huawei confirm LTE network over unlicensed spectrum

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

Bringing emergency communications together

2 hours ago

A new University of Adelaide research project aims to improve emergency operations through integrated communications systems for police and the emergency services.

For top broadband policy, look no further than Canada

Aug 20, 2014

You might have seen communications minister Malcolm Turnbull raising the issue about Australian press not discussing policy problems and solutions from overseas, in a speech delivered at the Lowy Institute Media Awards last week: ...

Cities, states face off on municipal broadband

Aug 19, 2014

Wilson, N.C., determined nearly a decade ago that high-speed Internet access would be essential to the community's social and economic health in the 21st century, just as electricity, water and sewers were in the previous ...

New loss mechanism for global 4G roaming

Aug 19, 2014

A loss mechanism that has not been an issue in previous mobile handset antennas will become important for global 4G roaming, according to results of experiments carried out in Aalborg, Denmark.

User comments : 0