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High-tech connections a must, survey decides
Rebecca Rolwing

This article originally appeared in The Business Journal (January 12, 1996) and is reprinted here with permission.

The state needs to see that money is available and that private business takes a lead to ensure that all Arizona residents are wired into advanced telecommunications. That's the conclusion of a survey released this month by the International Research Center. The survey, requested by the Legislature last April, also paints a picture of new telecommunications services and policies in other states.

At issue is the expanding definition of "universal service." For decades, universal service meant a simple dial tone, but that's not enough anymore. "Just having a dial tone does not mean you can participate in cyberspace," said Mark Goldstein, president of International Research Center, a Phoenix-based contract research firm. Universal service in the future probably will include voice, data and video transmission, including broad distribution of Internet access and e-mail. Currently, telephone customers pay additional fees for some of these services. Rural customers must often pay long-distance charges for Internet access. But it's possible these extras will be mandated by lawmakers as part of basic phone services, Goldstein said.

The survey recommends that the Arizona Corporation Commission create a fund to establish advanced telecommunications services, such as wiring schools for high-speed Internet access. The money could come from fines and penalties imposed against phone companies for service problems. But Gary Yaquinto, Director of the ACC Utilities Division, said it would be "unrealistic to think" enough money could be raised through penalties to fund advanced services. Goldstein said advanced services could be negotiated when phone companies seek higher rates. This option would be more plausible and has been done before, Yaquinto said. US WEST Communications Inc. would be "anxious to participate" in programs to establish telecommunications advances, but would want to do so on a voluntary or negotiated basis rather than as a mandate, said Jim Roof, US WEST Director of Public Relations.

The survey also recommends that the Governor's Office of Telecommunications Policy set up public and private programs that make dollars available for advanced services. For example, in a national program AT&T promised to shell out $150 million for Internet access and services to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, the survey said. Further, the survey says the governor's telecommunications office should use technology to improve government service, such as the new program putting the Arizona Legislature on-line. The Legislature set up an Internet site this month to keep voters informed about their work.

Also, the government should find a way for underserved populations to access technology. This could be done by providing kiosks or library access to computers. John Kelly, Executive Director of the Governor's Office of Telecommunications Policy, said the survey is an education tool about the state of telecommunications and what other states are doing with their own policies. It establishes a pool of ideas on how to improve telecommunications in this state, he said.