COMMENTARY: For decades, landline telephone companies dominated the nation’s telecommunications market, as well as New Mexico’s. In fact, their dominance spurred federal and state agencies to regulate them as if they were monopolies.
With cell phone usage surpassing landlines in New Mexico in 2012, and the addition of increasing voice-over-Internet services, it’s clear the array of competitors have busted any appearance of a monopoly in the traditional landline business.
But the regulations remain on landline services, and as they are, they cause the reverse effect of creating an uneven playing field for established telecom providers. When telecom companies can’t fairly compete in the marketplace, no one wins, especially customers. Traditional telecom companies continue to play a major role in building the backbone of New Mexico’s broadband Internet, and antiquated regulations based on old technology hinder investment in innovative services we all deserve.
New Mexico’s broadband speeds lag behind all but three other states, so it’s obvious we are due for a major upgrade in Internet service, but not simply for the sake of modern convenience. Until New Mexico’s information bandwidth improves, the state’s economy and educational institutions are sidelined, because the growth of every industry in the state, including hospitality, health care and high-tech, depends on it.
Modernization of the state’s telecom regulations is a key step in making it happen. The current telecom act in New Mexico was implemented in 1985, long before the modern technologies we use today were in existence. Members of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI) strongly believe that modernizing telecom regulations will generate more investment in Internet service and foster competition that creates more choices and better services for both businesses and consumers.
Help is on the way. Whereas current regulations hang up investment dollars in a dying technology, legislation sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla and Rep. Carl Trujillo modernizes the regulatory environment and allows companies to invest more dollars toward new technologies and services, like broadband.
Companion bills Senate Bill 53 and House Bill 57, each referred to as the “Telecom Modernization” bill, are supported by not just ACI, but the New Mexico Technology Council, the New Mexico Hospitality Association and the New Mexico Exchange Carriers Group, comprised of the state’s rural telecom providers. The bill has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, as well.
A change in the regulatory environment is already proven to work in New Mexico. That’s because the Legislature lessened regulations on landline providers in rural areas 17 years ago – the same providers who support this legislation’s passage. They know these changes have allowed them to grow and invest in a telecommunications network in rural New Mexico. New Mexicans in rural parts of the state now enjoy the benefit of numerous providers competing on price and service.
It’s also important to note that consumer protections will remain in place under SB 53 and HB 57. The Public Regulation Commission (PRC) will still enforce regulations on service quality and maintain authority over pricing. Telecom providers seeking a rate increase will have to notify the public 60 days in advance, hold a public hearing and provide a justification for the increase. Plus, consumers will be able to file petitions to challenge an increase, as well.
That’s why the PRC itself endorsed the bill with a bipartisan vote. Also, the Legislative Jobs Council, an interim committee of the Legislature, unanimously voted to support it.
Here in New Mexico, we often feel a little left out from the other 49 states, but by passing this important law, we can join 32 other states that have modernized their telecom regulations in the same way. Providers will be able to invest more in expanding and improving service for everyone. Consumers will have even more choices and still have their rights protected. Major employers will have a reliable broadband backbone to help them grow their businesses. Schools can see the speeds they need for research and testing.
Modernizing the Telecom Act comes at no cost to the State of New Mexico. In these challenging times for our state it is important to look at legislation that will help improve the economy without causing a fiscal impact. If both the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez agree on the benefits of SB 53 and HB 57 and approve the bill, implementing it won’t cost the taxpayers a penny.
We urge the public, the Legislature and Gov. Martinez to support these critically needed changes. Together, we can make the Land of Enchantment an even better place to live, raise a family, build a business and stay connected at the speeds surrounding states enjoy.
Jason Espinoza is the president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.