Other views: Consumers missing out on choice

Thursday, April 20, 2006

As consumers, we can agree that when we have choices, we have better products, better services and better prices. One thing that we haven't had much choice in is cable TV. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is the next generation of broadband services. This technology will bring fiber optic cable closer to the consumer by delivering information up to four times faster than existing DSL broadband lines, and making two way interactive capability a reality. What does that mean?

Imagine what it would be like to watch a live baseball game, and be able to change the camera angle from the comfort of your couch. Or think about selecting your favorite Indianapolis 500 driver to watch the race, as if you're the one behind the wheel. Suppose you're a history buff and would like to see programs on WWII. Your TV could be programmed to search for that subject and then send the programs to your screen. Or consider driving down the highway, when you suddenly realize that you forgot to program your DVR to record your favorite program. A quick call from your cell phone would "remind" the TV to record the program. With IPTV you can watch what you want, when you want it from a virtually unlimited and interactive content and selection. That's what the IPTV buzz is about. This state-of-the art technology will change the way we experience television and will give consumers compelling and innovative new choices as compared to cable TV.

When Missourians sit down to watch their favorite television program this week, they may not realize how close they came to having this new and innovative choice in entertainment, because a bill that could have brought IPTV has stalled in the Missouri Senate. Even worse, when Missouri consumers open up their cable bills this month, they may not know that their state legislature could have saved them real money be encouraging competition in the cable TV market.

A state-wide franchise agreement would eliminate a cumbersome process and allow competitors to enter multiple markets simultaneously, rather than requiring new TV providers to negotiate with Missouri's 553 local municipalities individually. New competition generated by a state-wide franchise would lead to lower television rates for consumers, meaning critical relief from ever-increasing cable rates.

New communications technologies are developing rapidly throughout the nation, making it more important than ever for legislators and regulators to acknowledge the changing communications landscape when considering the best way to structure a competitive TV market. Missouri's legislators will have missed a real opportunity to benefit its residents, both by limiting consumers' access to new technologies, and not allowing consumers access to a competitive cable TV market. With competition in the cable market, consumers will be in control with more choices, better content, lower prices and better service. There is still time for the legislature to act on good public policy that will bring the promise of a fair, competitive market that will benefit Missouri consumers.

Marsha Haskell is regional director of external affairs for AT&T Missouri.

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