- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

In his recent column ("Verizon exploited a national tragedy," Oct. 23), James Glassman rightfully praises the telecom industry for "quickly, courageously and diligently" performing an immense public service in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America.

But I take both issue and offense with his charge that it is "shameless exploitation" for companies to even suggest that the nation revisit both telecom laws and security practices in light of the very real threat of continued terrorism on American soil. When it comes to national security, our world today is markedly different from the one we inhabited just two months ago.

Calls to rescue workers, to law enforcement, to world leaders, and to loved ones on September 11 all offer a powerful and public demonstration of just how much our country relies on its telephone network. As critical national infrastructure, this makes telecommunications a potential terrorist target.

Verizon is hardly alone in its contention that U.S. policies should reflect this new reality. The company believes that the 5-year-old Telecom Act may need retooling, partly due to the events of September 11 and partly due to the legislation's own widely acknowledged shortcomings. In his rush to criticism, Mr. Glassman fails to mention that this is the stated public position not only of many who run telecom businesses, but also many who regulate them, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

Where Mr. Glassman sees an "unseemly" debate, responsible people see an essential debate one that should be carried out promptly, publicly and with candor.

Well before September 11, our industry faced significant economic challenges. Today, we as an industry are saying to Washington: The reliability of our networks is not to be taken for granted; we need to revisit the rules to ensure that they encourage a strong national telecom network.

Just last week, Mr. Powell said much the same, bluntly declaring, "It is time to reconsider the best approach to achieving meaningful competition." Mr. Powell argued that U.S. telecom policy should encourage facilities-based competition competition that creates duplicative physical infrastructures, so if one system is compromised, an alternate exists to keep the nation connected.

This is a reasonable course of action today. But it draws the ire of Mr. Glassman when the idea comes from Verizon. Mr. Glassman dismisses as "disingenuous" Verizon's statement that the company would welcome a competitive rival of similar size, with its own facilities, in the lucrative New York market. Verizon, however, learned something important in the fall of the World Trade Center towers and attack on the Pentagon. It was only because Verizon is a large, financially strong company that it was capable of bringing together the extraordinary resources necessary to rebuild a telephone-network equivalent in size to that of a large Midwestern city in the course of a few days. And, he knows that only if there are other large, facilities-based providers offering comparable service to that of Verizon will the country have the kind of real redundancy that national security requires.

Competitive carriers without their own facilities also have a stake in physical redundancy. When Verizon's service went out, so did the service of carriers who rely on Verizon facilities. A second facilities-based competitor would give them a second opportunity to continue their service. This is precisely why Mr. Powell wants to see the FCC encourage competitors to build their own facilities.

One way to encourage the physical build-out is to ensure that the cost of leasing incumbent facilities reflects the true cost of providing them. It's hardly a leap to believe that Verizon's costs may have gone up in the wake of the devastation in New York. Is it unfair, as Mr. Glassman suggests, to ask competitors who profit from their facilities to share in that burden?

Mr. Glassman goes on to ridicule serious concerns related to the physical security at telecom plants. When Congress mandated that incumbent carriers open their facilities to competitors, part of that order included unfettered physical access to these sites. When the 1996 telecom act was passed, no one gave much thought to the security implications of that provision. Today, it would be irresponsible not to ask: Does it make sense that so many people from so many companies have ready access to the nerve centers of U.S. telecommunications?

Lastly, I would like to say a word about the company Mr. Glassman chose to attack. Verizon lost three of its own on September 11. Despite that loss, the company mounted an unprecedented effort to restore service, to ensure emergency communications and to get the New York Stock Exchange up and running. For that effort, they deserve this nation's praise and gratitude.

Walter B. McCormick Jr. is president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association.

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