Washington, DC -- (SBWIRE) -- 05/18/2012 -- Who knew that several of the most prominent names in Georgia's telecommunication industry would end up waging one of the largest battles of the year over a provider’s right to transport services via the internet? Ronald Skates and Kraig Beahn, two highly influential voices who represent two very different entities, are waging what appears to be a nuclear war over an arrangement that continues to add to rising tensions and a steadily mounting public concern. What could they possibly be fighting about? Skates, who serves as the Director of Telecommunications at the Albany Water Gas & Light Commission, recently attempted to file charges against L2Networks with the accusation that the company was providing their VoIP services "over a mutual customer's network." (a.k.a. “the internet” of an AWGL “internet” customer)
Does this mean any ISP or carrier can or has the right to file “theft of service” charges against high-tech companies such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Netflix and Vonage alike?
The so-called "theft of service" complaint has certainly gotten the attention of those involved in this industry, and it is the general public of Georgia that has taken this development most seriously. To step forward with the claim that it is unlawful to choose an alternative application provider over another is one that has received harsh public criticism in light of the ethics and legal ramifications it presents. Not only is this a blatant attempt to monopolize and eliminate marketplace competition, but the general consensus is that this situation is entirely unjustifiable in the eyes of the law. When did it suddenly become acceptable for municipal interests to stand "above the law" in their dealings? Why should these entities have the right to bend the law exclusively to fit their needs? Is it really justifiable that this sort of battle goes on? Most anyone would answer that question with a resounding "no."
The United States is a capitalist nation. We also know that the economic health of any democracy relies heavily upon the corporate diversity or variety of choice that is found in the marketplace. It is safe to assume that with these entities, one thing always leads to another. If we are to allow the methodical "chipping away" of these ideals over time, it could very well pose some serious ramifications for the stability of the high-tech American economy. To undermine the very fabric of its livelihood through these seemingly minor legal challenges is to jeopardize the most basic American liberties, and as can be expected, the public and other like application service providers such as YouTube, Vonage and NetFlix are protesting this situation with fervor. It’s called “Net Neutrality”.
On March 13, 2012, a formal complaint was filed by L2Networks with the Georgia Public Service Commission. More recently, the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission’s legal counsel provided a statement at an arranged commission hearing, proclaiming that the their telecommunications department does "not provide regulated services and is not a regulated entity." They obviously hope to see the complaint dismissed or withdrawn by the Georgia Public Service Commission’s system altogether as it would allow them to maintain market dominance. It is disturbing to know that legal battles like this occur when they are fundamentally unconstitutional to begin with, but it is a trend that does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
My guess is that we will just have to watch what happens as the industry begins to challenge laws for which were not designed to be applied in this manner. What can we expect next in the telco vs application (VoIP) war? Is the Net Neutrality battle just starting to heat up?
A number of links that may be of interest while investigating and reporting on this item:
Albany Water Gas & Light Documents (Group #1): http://www.scribd.com/doc/93856754/Albany-Water-Gas-Light-AWGL-PSC-Trade-Secret-No-1
Albany Water Gas & Light Documents (Group #2):http://www.scribd.com/doc/93856836/Albany-Water-Gas-amp-Light-AWGL-PSC-Trade-Secret-No-2
Georgia PSC Utilities Div Agenda: http://www.psc.state.ga.us/exsec/administ.asp
L2Networks PSC Complaint (Actual Document): http://facts.psc.state.ga.us/Public/GetDocument.aspx?ID=140867
L2Networks PSC Complaint (Summary): http://www.psc.state.ga.us/factsv2/Document.aspx?documentNumber=140867