Solving the Communications Problem in the United States

You would think there isn’t one, but in my opinion, there is a very significant problem. Rural areas, and even major cities don’t have real choices for broadband. Cellular Companies are trying to compete to acquire spectrum that has to pass government oversight. Telephone companies are lacking in real standards, and Television services are even worse. Simply put, the Communications system is a complete mess, and this only hurts the people of the country as well as the government. It costs taxpayers, and consumers money, and causes headaches.

So, what would I suggest. Well, I am sure that some people will call me a Socialist for these suggestions, and the big companies that have massive stakes in the infrastructure that they have been failing to keep up will have a problem with my suggestion, but as I said, the consumer and government are the ones to suffer. Nonetheless, here are my suggestions.

Internet

Let’s face it, the Internet is an important aspect of every day life. It can also be the basis for most of the other forms of communications. However, most rural areas do not have broadband, and Monopolies have restricted cities from having real competition. Even in places where there is competition, it is half-ass at best. Any one that lives in rural areas knows what I mean where their only option might be a 56k dialup service, or rely on cellular services that limits you to 2GB per month. In Pittsburgh, I have three choices. I could get Cable Internet (through Comcast Communications), DSL (through a select number of providers), or Fiber Optic (through Verizon Communications). However, my brother who lives in the same city, and a 5 minute car ride does not have Fiber Optic. And with the possibility of him receiving it will be minimal to none. Yes, I understand that laying down fiber optic is expensive, but so was Cable, and telephone lines – yet it was done.

And while DSL (internet through telephone lines) must be made open by federal regulation, Cable, and Fiber does not. So, if you want anything above 5MBPS, your choice if you are lucky are two carriers. Now, if you want broadband (FCC says a minimum of 6MBPS), you will pay $50 or more. And yes, I know that laying cables are expensive, but keep in mind if they provide good services, their customers will stay. In addition, these prices are typically prohibitive for low income which only increases the digital divide. If a school requires students to have Internet access, then they have to provide subsidizations which means more tax dollars out for the bare minimum services which is all a very low income family may receive.

So, what would I recommend? First, government should retake the infrastructure if the company refuses to look to the consumer interests. And the government has every right. It is called imminent domain. The government pays fair market value for the infrastructure as it will be needed to serve the public’s interests. This is typically done for public spaces such as roads, streets, and utility installations, but keep in mind that the Internet should be considered as a utility. Now, the government will not be your ISP, but they will be the backbone. You as the consumer will pay an ISP for service who is approved and licensed with the government to use their backbone. Just as you buy a car to use on a public road.

This will allow the government to provide for low income pricing for those that need it. This will reduce the digital divide, and possibly even eliminate it. This will also save money from public services. These services will not have to pay an ISP to use the network. Therefore, 911 centers, schools, and other public institution that receives government financing can receive less financing – allowing the money for other resources, and the needs are served. ISPs had 20+ years to do it right, and they haven’t.

Postal Mail

The United States Postal Service is the only federal government that does not rely on tax dollars. This means that you as the consumer, when you pay 45¢ for a stamp, you are not paying any post subsidization. However with the increasing usage of email, and phone – the postal system has been suffering. Where they rely on bulk to make up for the low cost is now getting harder and harder to do.

And while many people do not think much of the postal service other than Netflix, some mail order purchases, and people living in the old days, without the postal service, companies like UPS and FedEx will have to take over, and this will only increase the price for letter delivery. However, I feel with some drastic changes, the postal service can become more efficient, and keep running with only nominal increases to keep with demand.

The postal service is a branch of the government, so declaring imminent domain will not be needed. The problem lies in how everything is delivered. First, let’s cut Saturday Service. Sunday service was never an option. Now, cut back on the days even more. I know I check my box every day, and most of the time, nothing but ads. So, maybe Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for home delivery. However, PO Boxes will have delivery every day. Why would PO Boxes get deliveries every day? Less man power is needed for PO Boxes since the boxes are at the post office. Now, charge a surcharge for the delivery of homes by 50%. So, now a 45¢ stamp will be 45¢ for PO Boxes, but 68¢ for home delivery. Each ounce (or part of) above 1oz will still be 20¢. While this will reduce the amount of mail that is being sent, keep in mind that all letter carriers will only work 3 days a week, even though the post office will be open 5 days. The post office should also make an aggressive advertising campaign for label printers that support postage stamps, and even offer an in-house account number for those that prefers to pay cash. This will offset the demand of having multiple stamp options – allowing the postage amount to be printed on the stamp.

While this will hurt parts of the postal service, and get some people in an uproar as they have to pay a premium to send mail to a home with only 3 day a week delivery, this will maximize the profits that will keep the federal branch of the government that is not subsidized with tax payer money in the black with the accounting books. To make a PO Box more attractive, it could be outfitted with sensors that will detect if mail is in the box. If there is mail in the box, an email can be sent. Now instead of email competing, it is complimenting. I would love to know for sure that my PO Box has mail in it rather than gambling my time and bus fare to see. This could also provide additional profits.

The way this could be done is encoding a QR code into a stamp. A stamp printer, or meter service must be acquired, but with a small nominal fee, the code could have a USPS URL on attached with it. A PO Box worker will be able to scan the stamp which will send the email to owner of the box. The owner opens the URL and will be able to see the ZIP+4 code of the sender. Since each ZIP+4 code is unique to an address, this will mean that he could do a ZIP code lookup to see the address. If it is from a person he is waiting for, he could go to acquire the important package.

Next will be coded addresses. For an annual or lifetime fee, a person can get a coded address which can then be used to provide privacy. As a coded address, the sender will pay the PO Box fee. If the recipient is having his mail sent to a residential address, he maybe required to provide a credit card where he would pay the surcharge. The coded address will not have an address, but the name, and an address code. This will allow the customer to acquire such an address, and it could be a permanent address. If he moves, he sets a change of address form, and all of his mail with the coded address will then go to the new address. Such an address may look like:

Frank Pilone
USPS 0182372849
ACR US 00001-3833

Now, if I live in Pittsburgh, but for some reason moved to Monroeville, I let the USPS know of the new address, and instantly – all mail goes from the old address to the new address. In addition, privacy is met as no one knows my true address. And it will tie in with the existing postal system, so it will be little changes to the infrastructure. Even people in witness protection could probably utilize the system, as the bad guys will only know the person lives somewhere in the US.

Telephone

Telephone is tricky. You have your POTS (plain ordinary telephone system), SIP, VOIP, and cellular. In many cases, you have 4 or 5 carriers – many being MVNOs. You also have SIP providers with different numbering standards – some required to provide for E911 support, and some not required. You have a number for this provider, and that provider. You have multiple voice mail services, and in some cases, there is a numbering block shortage which depends on the area code. Top it off with, all telephone numbers thought of as a US telephone number maybe a Canadian number, or worse – a Caribbean number which the cost is much higher. And forbid if we do run out of telephone numbers and have to add an extra digit. Then what?

First, the US government granted permission to Neustar to manage the distribution of telephone numbers. However, with the current systems (FCC’s fault), there are a number of issues that has gone wrong, and caused problems. We are in a “Area Code” mentality which has hurt the proper use of calling. I could call someone down the street, and if I have a local calling plan, I could pay long distance charges because they wanted to keep their Californian telephone number. And with the analog design (even though much is digital), it forces people to have to have multiple numbers and sometimes an extra number to allow all multiple numbers to be used efficiently. For example, if you have a home phone, work phone, and cell phone – then you have three phone numbers. You may need an extra number to forward calls to those three numbers all because we are thinking in the mentality of the 1800’s. So what should we do?

Well, this will piss off a lot of companies, and a vast majority of people, but it would do so only once, and never again. First, let’s kill the area code mentality. All US telephone numbers are considered as a local domestic call. Now, Neustar (with ITU compliance) will grant Canada the International dialing code of 2, and the other countries in the NANPA 3. This wouldn’t be what I would do as I feel every single country should have their own 3 digit country code. Now, when you have to dial a 1 before the area code in some cases, this is the international country code. We will keep that active, and require it with all carriers. Now, that we solved the accidental international calling, let’s solve the selective number shortage.

ITU requires that a country has a 1 – 3 digit country code, and a maximum of 12 numbers in the country. Currently, there are 10 digits. Some experts estimate that in 2025, we may be required to add a digit. Maybe in 2050, we may have to add another digit. Let’s end the half ass method now, and just utilize a 12 digit telephone number now. To make things simple, add the same digit to both the area code and exchange at the third space. So if this was to be implemented and 9 was selected – my phone number will change from +1 412 253 2956 to +1 4192 2593 2956. While this will confuse some people, it will be easy for app developers to create a number conversion process.

Now, let’s address the need to have multiple numbers. We are in a digital age. 98% of phone calls, and phone systems on the back end is digital. So, why is there an analog mentality? Imagine one phone number being able to ring home, office and or mobile. Also, imagine that one phone number supporting fax service. While fax is considered as old skool by those young whipper snappers, it is still used. Here is how it works. Neustar will have a web site where the customer can log in. They set up to 9 devices + fax. Instead of the device having a telephone number (which is part of the problem), they will use an IMEI number, or a MAC Address. IMEI is on all cellular phones. MAC addresses are on all network capable devices including SIP phone. For the old fashion POTS systems, the residence location can be given a unique number that will be provided by the telephone provider. A dual line ATA will need to have another alternative as well. Now, the consumer will enter the appropriate numbers, and add the fax machine to line 9 (0-8) will be phones. Every US citizen will receive their own telephone number free of charge, and for the rest of their lives.

Visitors, and non permanent residents will pay a small nominal fee and will receive a number in a reserved range. This number will have a 1 in the 5th digit. Therefore, a visitor’s telephone number might be +1 4192 1090 2945. Virtual numbers for people outside of the US will have a 0 in the 5th digit. This will reduce fraud as non citizens will not be able to get another range, so a scam artist in West Africa will have a hard time convincing someone that has a little knowledge that his +1 4192 0090 2945 number is really just a US telephone number. While the first number for a citizen maybe free, each additional numbers will cost.

Now, there should be no more requirements to change for a very long time (more than a century). There will also be more numbers available, since one phone number can apply to a cell phone, home phone, business extension, and even a fax number. And since all numbers in the US are considered as a local domestic call, the only reason for toll free numbers will be for the benefit of those that have to use pay phones. With Low Income programs now offered to cell phones – this should be reduced in demands as well.

Now, to provide for travelers (international, and local), there should be unique short digit numbers that are national. We have it in 211, 311, 411, 511, 611, 711, 811, and most importantly, 911. However, what is the telephone number for the taxi service in Pittsburgh PA? Unless you use them a lot, you may not know. However, what if all you had to do was dial TAXI (8294) and reach the local taxi service no matter what city you were in? The same can be done for the local bus system, and other important services. And since this will be national reserved numbers for a localized service, it will always reach the right location by using cellular triangulation and GPS. Home based phone services will enter a service address which will be required for 911 dialing, but will also apply to all localized number services.

Now, the government will take immanent domain for all of the telephone carrier’s infrastructure (same way as Internet). The airwaves according to the FCC belongs to the people of the US, so why is it that we pay $100 or more a month for using the airwaves we already own? Government will charge license fees to the carriers who will operate the network and provide support. They will also do the billing. This will mean that every single carrier becomes an MVNO. The government will take the funds from the licensing rights and the funds they would have paid to the carriers for employee phone services to build out the network which will include providing services in rural areas, and providing an LTE network to the whole country. Since it is essentially one carrier, this will make it easier for manufacturers to develop 3G/4G devices since they don’t have to make a brand for every major carrier. The government can also reserve a band for emergency response services. By doing this, there will be no bottleneck of one carrier not having enough spectrum while another carrier has too much. This will also increase competition, and reduce prices. And with the government being responsible to the people, there should be a consistent network upgrade when it is needed.

Television

Leaps were made when the US television networks went from Analog to Digital. However, there is a need or desire for land based services such as cable with Satellite typically serving for people that can’t receive cable. The reason of this is while there is digital television which means clearer pictures, and high definition services, there are still things such as buildings, and mountains that stand in the way.

I will think the more realistic option will be to move to a land based television network and eventually IPTV. By utilizing a land based television, the spectrum reserved for television can be applied to other resources. Since cable is available to most homes in major or even smaller cities, the air based services will be kept for rural areas (at least until cabling can be laid). Now, local and otherwise free channels can be provided to everyone without issue of geographical barriers. If the Internet proposition will be taken, then the government owns these lines, and there will be no charge for the free television services (what a silly concept).

Now, for the stations. There really should be a national channel line up. CBS should be the same everywhere. ABC, and PBS should be the same everywhere. And in a realistic world, Showtime, and HBO should be the same everywhere. Chris shouldn’t have to say there is this wonderful show on channel 50 and I will have to call him back and ask what the Channel ID is because the show on my channel 50 sucks.

As for television providers, every one (including Satellite) will be required to provide Tru2Way cards. A set top box is an option, but the televisions themselves will be capable of supporting the channels, and even On Demand Services (with a Tru2Way adapter). Those without a card will still be able to receive the free channels (which could be in the range of 1-9). For those with old TVs, a basic set top box could be purchased for the land based television service, and with that a new tuner, and cable card access.

Final Thoughts

I honestly do not see any of this happening. Lobbyist, politics, and social views of loosing Capitalism on this will get in the way. However, while some will see this as loosing out in Capitalism, it will actually increase it. There will be an equal playing field for all providers. Customer Service, price, and features will define who is best, and that is the way it should be.

With Internet being rolled out by the government, and then license to ISPs, the government could improve the infrastructure, and dare I say – be able to provide better control over shutting down viruses, and malware in the country. A secured network could overlay the existing owned network for power systems, and may even work on improving other areas.

And while mail systems will seem to suffer, keep in mind that there are other options that will help increase funds to the USPS. With this in mind, and if demand calls for it, the postal service may one day return to the former glory if the demand calls for it. If not, the options will keep the postal service a viable solution, and efficient branch that will not need to rely on tax payer money.

Telephone will be standardized, locally domestic, and competitive. As we move to a mobile system, telephones will remain important. And as we the global market become more integrated, telephone systems will be very important. And by adding two digits to the telephone, and removing the telephone number itself from the companies control, the phone system will be more uniformed, and easier to deal with. A child could also receive their own phone number early on, and it could become available through out the life. There will be enough numbers to where an expired number could be out of the system for a year or more, and therefore reduce the wrong number scenario that is so common.

And with the television eventually moving to land based, and a standard in place where the premium television carriers must abide with, the television service will be simpler, more efficient, and more cable. This could even lead to the coaxial based cable system to not be obsolete – as it would be used to deliver television allowing for fiber optic to pave the way for that 25MBPS internet service with options to eventually go to 1TB (when hardware catches up) that we all so deserve. This will make the US a global leader again as all American will have access to services that many other countries find silly that we don’t have.