During the last couple of years, some telecom analysts, free-market think tanks, and telecom carriers have trumpeted a new era of competition.
Their argument: Old, monopoly-style regulations aren't needed any more because there's all kinds of competition out there. They say that telecom carriers shouldn't have to share their networks with competitors and broadband providers shouldn't be prohibited from blocking or slowing Web content from competitors because there's all kinds of competition out there.
Meanwhile, SunRocket, the second largest independent VoIP provider, has shut down. Vonage, the largest independent VoIP provider, has faced a patent infringement lawsuit from giant competitor Verizon, and its future is uncertain. Verizon contends it owns the patent to the technology that translates VoIP calls and allows them to connect to traditional telephone networks.
Wireless phone carriers provide some competition, but the largest two wireless carriers are owned by the two giant telecom carriers. I'm not sure that counts as competition.
In the broadband space, there are some indications that one or two new competitors are on the way, but it could take years. Right now, well over 90 percent of the U.S. has at most two broadband providers, the cable company or the telecom carrier. The telecom carriers are fighting against auction rules that would encourage a new broadband provider when a chunk of television spectrum is freed up in early 2009.
Elsewhere, broadband customers in other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, pay less for faster service. Japanese customers pay about one-seventh what U.S. customers do per megabit of bandwidth. But few people in D.C. want to talk about the real reasons for this. It's not free-market competition; instead, telecom services in many other countries are highly regulated and subsidized by the government.
For some of us, the promise of telecom competition seems a long way off.
And, by the way, if you want to find me during the next week, your best bet is probably e-mail.