Telephone Competition Helps Link Minority, Low Income Communities to Outside World

By Robert Deposada and Mario Rodriguez

Affordable telecommunications service is essential to the citizens of New York, especially those on low or fixed incomes. It goes without saying that many who fall into this category are also members of minority groups. For these people, telephone service is their vital link to the outside world.

That is why an upcoming meeting of the New York State Public Service Commission is being closely watched by members of these communities. Later this month, the commission is set to act on a proposal that could either threaten or help safeguard affordable telecommunications services, depending on what action the commission takes. The right action would help maintain affordable and reliable phone service because it would make sure that the new, competitive phone companies are allowed to stay in the market. The wrong action has the potential to put these new companies out of business.

While all New Yorkers have a stake in preserving competition, members of the low income and minority communities are especially concerned and especially affected. That is because the new, smaller phone companies that have sprung up to compete against Verizon in recent years have vigorously sought to serve our communities. This commitment has not gone unnoticed by the communities, which in turn have gravitated toward the services offered by the new phone companies.

But those new companies might not be around much longer if the PSC missteps. Without going into too many of the technicalities, the commission is scheduled to vote later this month on a plan that sets the rates that new, competitive companies pay to Verizon to connect with the existing telephone network. The current fees - or so-called interconnection rates in the lingo of the industry - are much higher than they should be. Efforts to lower the interconnection rates to a more reasonable level have meet opposition from, of all places, the staff of the PSC.

The current high rates unfairly enrich Verizon, and by the same token make it tougher for the new competitors to do business. This is important to low-income communities, because if the newcomers are out of business, it could lead to a return to a Verizon monopoly over all telecommunications services. And that benefits no one. Expect Verizon, perhaps.

Competition, on the other hand, benefits everyone, especially low-income and minority communities. Competition helps ensure low cost and affordable service, including Internet access, which is becoming increasingly important in today's digital world. The five members of the Public Service Commission can help preserve all that by voting to move forward with lower wholesale interconnection rates for the new phone companies. This would be a positive step with many beneficial results.

At The Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Business Roundtable, we have a phrase for policies that benefit the community across the board in this fashion. We call them "Family Friendly" policies. Making sure that we have access to affordable phone service is such a policy.

That is why we are asking the New York PSC to take action that will preserve phone competition by lowering the interconnection rates. Such as move is "Family Friendly." And it's good public policy.

Robert Deposada is president of The Latino Coalition and Mario Rodriguez is President of the Hispanic Business Roundtable. Both organizations represent the 2.8 million Hispanics living in the state of New York.

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