MAYO FLYNT: Federal policy change means more Miss. broadband

By Mayo Flynt

“Everybody wants progress, but not always change.” When former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat said that last year to a gathering of Blueprint Mississippi leaders, I thought, “that’s insightful and … true!” Change can be tough. It can be scary. But, if we are going to make progress in life or business, there comes a time when we have to let go of the past, embrace change, and move forward to make progress.
Few industries have seen as much progress and innovation as mine has seen in the last few years. Mobile broadband networks, smartphones, and tablets allow us to communicate and access information in ways that seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. Sometimes it feels like our lives have gone online. Social media, video, shopping, gaming, texting and a dizzying array of “apps” that help us manage daily life have created a digital tsunami of data on broadband networks.
This dramatic shift to new technologies and services has greatly altered the landscape in which we operate. Today, customers tell us they want more wireless and broadband, coverage and speed. No one is asking for more plain old telephone service. In fact, since 2000, almost one-half of our landlines have been disconnected in Mississippi – from 1,350,000 to fewer than 700,000 today. Last year, an average of 6,700 lines was disconnected every month. To put that in perspective, it is like a town the size of Louisville, Mississippi disconnecting every month … an entire town, every month. Today, one-third of Mississippi households are totally wireless, and that percentage continues to climb as customers continue to move to wireless and other technologies for their communications.
In a historic market change like this one, there are many challenges. Changing and adapting to new circumstances are imperative. After many years of study and debate, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently addressed a major challenge facing our industry and consumers across the country.
For most of the 20th century, the objective of the FCC’s universal service policy was to deliver affordable voice telephone service to as many Americans as possible – making sure the unserved were served and that rates in the areas most costly to serve remained affordable. The universal service program was established in the monopoly era, and the program did its job. Yet, it became outdated in a competitive world where consumers have so many choices that they disconnect the very voice lines universal service worked so hard to deliver. In the 21st century, the goal is to deliver broadband and mobility to all parts of the country.
The FCC’s new policy includes many complex changes which need thorough evaluation. One change is simple, however: FFor the first time, companies receiving universal service fund dollars will be able to spend those funds on broadband equipment. (The earlier policy’s focus on voice service prevented us from doing this.) The change in policy will allow AT&T to deploy more broadband in Mississippi in 2012. This is good news for Mississippi consumers.
The FCC’s new plan is comprehensive with many phases, and more steps will need to be taken before the promise of delivering broadband and mobility is realized. But this first step is a good one and will help deliver more broadband this year. Change can be hard at times but we have to embrace it if we want continued progress.
Mayo Flynt is the president of AT&T Mississippi. Contact him through Gunner Goad at dg7616@att.com.