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Montgomery: Smart Regs for a Bright Future

We have a lot of smart things these days.

Smartphones. Smart watches. Smart glasses. Smart vehicles and electric grids.

What we don’t have a lot of, especially when it comes to tech policy, is smart regulations.

This is particularly true on the federal level where policymakers are routinely pummeled by the double-whammy of partisan dysfunction and a glacial regulatory pace. Technology simply moves too quickly and the government too slowly. And particularly when it comes to technology, antiquated regulations can easily do more harm than good.

For example&hellip

Right now, you probably spend more time using your phone for things other than talking on it. You tweet, surf the web, use some apps, play some games—all from a device that used to be strictly known as a telephone. Even if you still have a "home phone," chances are you get that service bundled with your Internet access and TV service.

In other words, your relationship with the traditional concept of a telephone has evolved. The antiquated communications infrastructure that has blanketed our country for over 100 years simply isn’t on your radar. And you’re certainly not alone. In fact, some estimates put the number of people abandoning the legacy voice-based networks, for broadband-enabled options, at around 500,000 each month.

That’s a lot of people doing a cannonball into the digital age, and it’s only going to increase. This is where regulations come into play — specifically, some dusty laws on the books that force providers of legacy phone service to invest billions — that’s with a b — in outdated networks that people are leaving in droves.

Yeah, I can hear you say, who cares? But here’s the thing: All those billions of dollars required for maintaining the old telephone networks is crucial investment being kept away from  the advanced networks that power our smartphones and broadband connections. Those billions need to be directed toward expanding high-speed broadband access and building out the more robust networks we need to remain globally competitive.

To bring this down to the local level, consider what broadband—both wired and wireless—has done for the California economy. Consider the millions of jobs that depend on increasingly powerful networks. Now think about what billions more invested in broadband networks—and millions more Americans connected to broadband—could mean for our state’s economy going forward.

Every American, no matter where they live, still needs access to reliable phone service, including 9-1-1 services. But if providers are going to keep up with where consumers are increasingly going, they’ll need the freedom to invest their dollars in the modern, Internet-based networks that power the devices we love.

Making this happen requires modernizing current regulations so that they reflect our current state of communications technology. By working with the industry to bring regulations up to date, policymakers can go a long way toward showing they understand the trajectory of communications innovation, even if they won’t be able to match the speed at which technology evolves.