Washington "open for business," says Lowry following signing of federal Telecommunications Act

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Mike Lowry today said the state of Washington is well positioned to attract the massive telecommunications investment expected to be triggered by President Clinton's morning signing of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

"We are in an excellent position to draw more than our share of these companies and the family wage jobs they'll bring with them," Lowry said. "From an economic development standpoint, we stand to benefit handsomely from the telecommunications revolution this federal legislation represents and the residents of our state will benefit from the competition that will flourish."

Lowry said Washington began preparing for this landmark legislation 18 months ago when he created the Governor's Telecommunications Policy Coordination Task Force. Washington now has a lead over most other states in laying the groundwork for attracting the services of telecommunications providers and the companies themselves.

Washington already has a strong core of telecommunications providers, particularly in the wireless area pioneered by the McCaw family. The number of wireless companies in the state tripled and their gross revenue rose 71 percent between 1988 and 1993. The overall number of telecommunications companies doing business in Washington more than doubled to 522 during that same period.

In 1993, these core telecommunications jobs paid an average of $42,074, compared to a state average wage of $25,753. Washington's strong software industry pays even higher wages and is expected to play a growing role in providing the software for advanced network services.

Lowry said the Telecommunications Task Force has been identifying potential barriers to deployment of advanced telecommunications networks, and has generally found the state to be in good shape.

"We're definitely open for business," Lowry said. "We've positioned ourselves to be the place to create new telecommunications products and services. The systems are in place so these companies can begin investing in this state with a minimum of delay."

State Revenue Director and Task Force Chair Len McComb said completion of the group's work was held up by the pending federal legislation, which makes sweeping changes in the way telecommunications companies can compete and states regulate them. Now that the bill has become law, the task force will complete a preliminary report next month and provide an update in the fall prior to the 1997 legislative session.

McComb said the task force is focusing on ways to promote competition among telecommunications companies by leveling the playing field from a taxation standpoint, lowering any barriers to fair competition, making sure consumer interests are protected, examining ways to ensure that rural areas don't get left out of the telecommunications revolution, and making sure any state investment in telecommunications infrastructure is made efficiently and minimizes duplication.

Some of the issues being addressed by the task force already have made their way into pending legislation, including a proposed study of ways to bring telemedicine to rural areas, better coordination of K-12 investments in telecommunications with other state operations, and more consistent policies for siting cellular antennas and attaching equipment to utility poles.

Sharon Nelson, chair of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and a task force member, said the federal telecommunications legislation validates the steps the state has been taking to deregulate and encourage competition among telecommunications providers in Washington.

"The federal legislation affirms and ratifies everything we've been doing in that area," Nelson said. "We're way ahead of other states because in many cases, what the legislation asks us to do, we've already done."

Nelson said the state began moving toward a deregulated telecommunications environment through the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1985 and subsequent legislation. "New telecommunications providers have found Washington to be a good climate in which to invest," she said, pointing out that AT&T, MCI, Sprint, Teleport, TCI cable, and Electric Lightwave are among the companies already making major investments in this state.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.

Five Goals of the Governor's Telecommunications

Policy Coordination Task Force

1. Achieving Regulatory Consistency in converging industries

The days when cable systems provided only television broadcasts and telephone companies provided only phone service are drawing to a close. The technologies are converging so that cable companies may begin offering voice, data and interactive communications and phone companies may provide video services. The federal legislation makes sweeping changes to the regulation of these formerly disparate industries and the state must reexamine how its current plans to promote competition among these providers are affected by this legislation.

2. Leveling the Taxation Playing Field

The way Washington taxes telecommunications providers will play a major role in the investment decisions these companies make over the next several years. Washington must reexamine its taxation policies to make sure all competitors are treated fairly in the newly emerging open markets.

3. Balancing Local Zoning Interests with State Infrastructure Needs

A balance needs to be struck between local zoning regulations and state infrastructure needs, specifically in the siting of cellular towers and other communications antennas, and restrictions placed on access to utility poles owned or controlled by local governments and public utility districts. The public must be protected from potential health hazards while the industry needs more certainty and expeditious handling of permit requests.

4. Bringing Infrastructure to Rural Areas

While some rural areas enjoy telecommunications services equal to or greater than urban areas, others fall short. Since the availability of advanced telecommunications services has become a growing economic development issue, the state should examine ways it can give rural areas the tools to promote the deployment of advanced networks.

5. Leveraging the State's Role as a Large Purchaser, User and Provider of

Telecommunications Services

While the state should play only a limited role in encouraging the deployment of specific telecommunications technologies by the private sector, it must play a larger role with regard to overseeing and coordinating governmental telecommunications technology investments. The state's telecommunications systems must work as a wholly integrated and nonduplicative network. Although the state currently does a good job of coordinating interagency telecommunications planning, more could be done to integrate this planning with the K-12 and higher education systems.