From the “A Pox on Both Your Houses” files, Verizon is squaring off against greedy landlords in New York City as it tries to fix lines damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
In short, Verizon needs access to the common areas of the multi-dwelling units (MDU or industry-speak for apartments) to fix or upgrade the lines. Verizon is using these repairs as an opportunity to transition connections from copper to its fiber optic FiOS system.
AT&T and Verizon have been arguing that once a household transitions from a copper connection to FiOS (in the case of Verizon) or U-Verse (in the case of AT&T, which actually hasn’t even changed the copper connection), they are using a fundamentally different, less regulated service. My conversation with Bruce Kushnick delved into some of these claims.
Verizon’s copper to fiber upgrade could actually therefore be an accountability downgrade if regulators agree that households deserve fewer protections on connections over fiber than over copper. This appears to be a major fight brewing — how to regulate the same services over different types of connections.
And this is where it gets interesting. Verizon, AT&T, and the other big cable/telcos are constantly arguing for deregulation, saying that the market is so competitive that the government should just get lost.
But then Sandy rips through and landlords (that I have ZERO sympathy for) see an opportunity to shakedown Verizon. After all, Verizon is going to use the new connections to increase revenues from these households by selling more services (triple play over fiber). This seems a perfectly reasonable deregulated market showdown.
But Verizon immediately goes crying to the state regulators: “The landlords aren’t playing nice, force them to let us into their buildings!”
Anyone who still believes competitive or free markets are synonymous with unregulated markets is fooling themselves. Big firms use deregulation or regulation in their attempts to corner and monopolize markets. They only favor less regulation when they perceive an immediate benefit to the bottom line.
We need a government that is sufficiently wise to decide when more regulation or less regulation will create the best outcomes for all of us. In some cases, regulation is essential to preserve a competitive market and in others, some deregulation may be in order. Unfortunately, we have a government that tends to act based on what is best for those employing the best lobbyists and making the most campaign contributions.
To be clear, I don’t think landlords should be able to hold tenants hostage until they get paid off. However, that is in large part because I view access to the Internet as an essential infrastructure that requires accountability. Being a natural monopoly, the market will not provide those protections, which is why the government has long protected the public interest in telecommunications with regulations.