Rep. Joe Seiwert: Kansas’ policies need to match tech reality

03/20/2013 6:10 PM

03/20/2013 6:10 PM

As chairman of the House Utilities and Telecommunications Committee and one of the 118 lawmakers in the House who voted to update Kansas communications policy, I would like to respond to issues raised about legislative efforts in “Protect phone users” (March 14 Eagle Editorial).

The Eagle editorial board essentially drew the same conclusion as lawmakers, which is that the telecommunications industry is changing and regulations need updating to reflect this new reality.

Today nearly 40 percent of Kansas adults choose to give up their landline and live in wireless-only households. And according to the Federal Communications Commission, the entire state of Kansas has access to either wired or wireless broadband.

While the technology in Kansas has clearly changed, state policies have not kept up and in some cases have not changed in more than a decade. That is the reason the House decided to move forward with this legislation.

The primary goal of the bill is to ensure that Kansas policies make sense for consumers and companies in today’s rapidly changing digital marketplace. Additionally, updated policies will encourage investment in the next wave of communications technology, enhancing economic competitiveness and growth throughout Kansas.

My committee met with various members of the telecommunications industry to come up with this bill, which modernizes state policies to promote competition and growth in the telecommunications sector. It puts all competitive companies on equal footing to compete and deliver the services that consumers want and that businesses need.

In terms of consumer interests, the bill eliminates or reduces state subsidies to many providers, which should result in lower telephone bills for consumers. And as on other consumer issues, individuals with complaints can take them to the Kansas attorney general, local county attorneys or the Better Business Bureau. The best consumer protection of all, of course, is vibrant and fair competition.

Modern regulatory frameworks make sense for Kansas, especially since they have been successfully enacted for other communications technologies at the state and federal levels. The wireless industry has thrived under a modern regulatory framework enacted in the 1980s, and the results of that approach are evident. The wireless industry directly and indirectly employs more than 3.8 million Americans, and wireless providers have invested more than $230 billion in capital expenditures since 2002.

Given the success of the wireless sector under a modern regulatory regime, it is only logical for lawmakers to update policies for the rest of the communications industry and ensure that they facilitate competition, protect consumers and encourage infrastructure investments in network upgrades and expansion.

As this bill moved through the legislative process, it became very clear that a wide array of communications options are available to Kansas consumers and businesses. However, if we want to make sure that Kansas can continue to benefit from competition and innovation in the tech sector, we need to ensure that our state’s policies make sense for the technology of today and encourage investment in the innovations of tomorrow.

The entire Kansas House recognized this need for modernization, which is why the bill was passed with only one dissenting vote. I hope our colleagues in the Senate will shortly follow suit.

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