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On Mon, 20 Sep 1993, Jim Finamore wrote:
 
> I am a bit uncomfortable with the growing view among the
> public interest groups that the traditional telco standard
> of "universal service" will suffice for NII policy.
 
Hi Jim!  Well,
 
The Administration uses the term universal service still but I think there
is a growing concensus among public interest groups that a better term
might be Universal Access, exactly due to the problem you describe.
Several of the older generation consumer interest groups such as AARP and
Consumer Federation of America reluctantly came up a long learning curve
over the past few years to move away from their entrenched and antiquated
positions regarding Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) in a dawning
realization that in an information economy, access to essential
information was going to be a fundamental equity issue.  Some of EFF's
earlier work with these groups in this respect was particularly good,
however kind of strayed off-track into a questionable focus on ISDN as the
solution and got stuck on Plain Old Digital Service which just doesn't go
far enough. Some people now call for "POTS and PANS".  That is, plain old
telephone service AND plain old network service.  Cute, but again doesn't
get into the realm of essential information necessary to function as an
informed citizen in a democracy.
 
Our view of the Administration, presently is that they want to approach
this issue with a blank slate and an open mind.  I've heard Larry Irving say,
for example that they don't know what Universal Service means any longer
and want to find out.  So its an opportunity, but personally, and I think a
number of other groups would share this view that what we might want to try
is to combine principles of public ACCESS with UNIVERSAL service and
sort reframe the new debate as Universal Access.  If we can promote this
term and anchor it in the media and common usage, it would be a great help
in moving way beyond POTS, what the telcos might want to promote, and
residual assumptions hanging out in the public mind.
 
> As a member of my Town's Cable Committee, I have some understanding
> of the way public interests have been defined on the cable
> side of things.  I think someone should be taking another look
> at such cable definitions as "public access", "Public, Education,
> Government" (PEG) requirements, and "must carry."
 
Exactly.  These are principles that could well be expanded into a new
Universal Access formulation for the NII.  You'll see this sentiment
expressed in the Center for Civic Networking's policy working paper that
came out back in July.  One of the really tantalizing prospects of NII
policy is that we can gain back a lot of lost territory, in terms of
strengthening a lot of core public interest principles such as equity,
privacy, and public access (We could stand to lose equally -- but its
gonna happen so we all better figure out how to weigh in and hollar real
loud when the time comes).
 
> I am not sure, for example, where our Buffalo Free-Net would
> fit in under a Universal Service standard.  But using the long
> standing doctrine of Must Carry, it is easy (for me) to see
> how a Free-Net, like a local public broadcasting station, could
> become a required offering for a cable operator which offers
> a data channel.
 
Yep.  Everybody who wants to ought to be able to "Hang a Shingle on the Net."
There's an idea floating around called "Symmetrical Regulation" which
basically states that we have all these neat Constitutional principles
embodied in various media regulatory regimes, ie "must carry", "prior
restraint" or "common carriage" are all based on bedrock democratic
principles, but the regulatory categories, ie Broadcast, or Newspaper or
Telephone are antiquated and do not work any longer because all this stuff
is converging.  Symmetrical Regulation means you treat all the players
equitably and preserve what's best from each of the older regimes and
apply them to everyone.  Certainly this idea has some BIG PROBLEMS but it
does sort of create a way to look at the whole mess from a big picture
public interest perspective.
 
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Center for Civic Networking                        Richard Civille
P.O. Box 65272                                     Washington Director
Washington, DC 20035                               [log in to unmask]
(202) 362-3831
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