I moderated a panel today at the annual meeting of Associated Network Partners Inc. (ANPI), a Springfield, Illinois based aggregator of switched access and other telecom services. The panel focused on industry issues and trends and their implications for small independent telecom carriers. A provocative discussion point was offered by ANPI’s CEO, Dave Lewis, who suggested the independent telecom industry should take a hard look at the current troubles of GM and consider how those troubles could be a cautionary tale for independent telcos. His analogy is an interesting one. GM is a company that at its height was all powerful and almost ‘anesthesicized’ to market factors and their implications. In effect, GM wasn’t paying attention to the market because they felt they didn’t have to, and as recent headlines suggest, did so at their own peril.
Are independent telcos following a similar path? Is their reliance on regulated subsidies and USF giving them a certain comfort level which allows them to ignore market factors? The issue of naked DSL came up in our panel discussion as an example. More and more customers are demanding it – it’s becoming a ‘market factor’ which can be ignored if companies (and the regulatory framework which drives it) choose to do so. But in so doing, are service providers doing so at their own peril? I’m not suggesting that naked DSL by itself is a big enough issue to put the independent telecom industry in peril. But it’s illustrative of a larger issue – an issue that has to be addressed by the whole independent industry, including regulators, settlement administrators, associations, and service providers. Service providers of all types and sizes need to be in the business of providing the products and services that the market demands – not the products and services that are convenient to the service provider or its regulatory framework. It amounts to a cultural shift and a difficult one. But one that must be addressed. Just ask GM.
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