Telecom upgrades called critical

Expand broadband, BellSouth CEO says

March 23, 2006|By COX NEWS SERVICE

LAS VEGAS -- It will take huge, expensive changes to upgrade telecommunications networks to handle a new era of services.

BellSouth's chairman and chief executive, F. Duane Ackerman, said yesterday that the key is to keep building -- and to keep the government from layering on regulations that he fears will stifle the process.

Ackerman, in a speech at an important industry conference in Las Vegas, echoed themes laid out a day earlier by AT&T Chairman and CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. AT&T is buying BellSouth in a landmark deal that will help redraw the telecom landscape.

Together, the leaders of the two companies are painting the combination as a logical response to an environment in which billions of dollars must be spent to retool slow networks into broadband pipes that can funnel voice, video and data in a hurry.

At the same time, Whitacre and Ackerman are arguing that the combined company must be able to charge enough to recoup its investments.

They're trying to catch up in the so-called network neutrality debate, which puts them at odds with companies like Google that think open access should be preserved.

The crux of the dispute revolves around the desire of AT&T and BellSouth to charge some users extra for heavy use of the Internet. The companies believe they should be able to get more cash from businesses that use heavy amounts of bandwidth.

So far, this once-obscure debate has put the phone companies on the defensive. Ackerman is among those pitching a view that the Internet will become clogged without additional investment.

"Today's Internet will not meet tomorrow's demand," Ackerman said, contending that broadband connections will form the "foundation for the entire economy. We have to build the next-generation networks that can handle this huge flow of data."

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