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Pa. telecom rules stuck in the past

| Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The natural gas industry has brought tremendous economic benefits to Pennsylvania. In recent years, this growing industry has invested billions of dollars in the commonwealth to develop an environmentally responsible way to harness natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale rock formations.

The overall impact of this effort has been dramatic — bringing affordable energy solutions to consumers; creating thousands of high-paying jobs; generating nearly $2 billion in tax revenue for the state; and restoring economic prosperity to many Pennsylvanians.

As the industry has developed, elected leaders in the Keystone State have enacted wise public policies to ensure Pennsylvanians continue to reap the benefits of this burgeoning industry for years to come while at the same time protecting the state's natural resources.

Another industry critical to Pennsylvania's economic health is the telecommunications sector. This industry has undergone a fundamental transformation as new technologies have redefined how, when and where we communicate. Today, most communications are Internet-based and inherently mobile.

With the popularity of new technologies growing, the number of landline customers in Pennsylvania has declined at an astonishing rate. In 2003, Verizon, one of several landline providers in Pennsylvania, had 5.7 million phone lines. Today, it has fewer than 2.4 million.

This example is not unique to Pennsylvania. As consumers across the country decide to “cut the cord,” traditional phone companies like AT&T and Verizon continue to lose business.

But regulations governing telecommunications in Pennsylvania have not kept pace with the realities of the Digital Age. Cable and wireless companies have an unfair advantage over legacy companies like AT&T and Verizon, which are forced to comply with costly, outdated restrictions that divert precious resources to older technologies when they could be better used to invest in newer technologies.

Unfortunately, special-interest groups such as the Communications Workers of America, professional consumer advocates and some regulators have made it their priority to keep telecom rules stuck in the past despite the fact that today's telecommunications market is vastly competitive. These groups have lobbied to keep “what was” in place instead of advocating for newer, better technologies and services for consumers.

What the special interests fail to acknowledge is that today's consumers demand speed and flexibility with their communications services, but the archaic regulations they advocate only distort the marketplace, handicap legacy companies, and tip the scales in favor of some industry players over others.

Pennsylvania's outdated rules and regulations must be reformed to enhance the business climate and ensure the state remains open to job-creating new investments. That can only happen if special interest groups, as well as regulatory bodies, release their grip on antiquated rules and arguments and embrace the new technologies that will lead us into the future.

Newer, high-speed networks hold tremendous promise for Pennsylvania. The time has come to retire unnecessary regulations designed long before anyone could imagine what today's world would look like.

Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media and co-author of “Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't.”

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