I RECENTLY HAD AN IMPORTANT BUSINESS meeting in New Jersey. Before Sept. 11, I would have flown the 250 miles. But my plans changed. I drove the four hours to the meeting and returned the same day. Are my actions out of the ordinary? Not according to Netscape.com. In the days following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Netscape asked more than 5,000 people how they would travel to their next distant meeting. Fifty-three percent said they would fly; 47 percent opted to drive. None voted for videoconferencing.
The lack of interest in videoconferencing surprised me until I started to think about it.
Videoconferencing technology?and by that I mean really good videoconferencing technology?remains the exclusive domain of large businesses and the 9 percent of American households that can afford high-speed Internet access.
This shouldn’t be the case.
For many years, the technology has allowed businesses and households to enjoy what the industry calls a rich experience, but the widespread deployment of videoconferencing technology has been curtailed by the political infighting between long-distance and local telephone companies. Long-distance telecoms, which make most of their profits from large businesses, want to expand their reach to consumers. Local telecoms are regulated monopolies reaping profits from households. Each wants, and needs, the other sector’s customers to grow. And each has the wherewithal to offer those services tomorrow.
Six years ago I asked a local telephone company worker what type of cable he was laying in front of a friend’s home. Of course, he was laying down fiber-optic cable capable of transmitting data and video images at very fast rates.
That cable remains buried in front of my friend’s home. And the local telephone company continues to claim it cannot offer him high-speed services.
The events of Sept. 11 shook the world, the economy and hopefully both sectors of the telecom industry. In the near future, businesses that want to save costs by curtailing nonessential travel?and families that wish to remain in touch with relatives and friends but are afraid to fly?will combine to create a huge economic opportunity for players in the videoconferencing market.
Insiders in the telecommunications industry would be wise to find ways to make high-speed, low-cost access to our nation’s telecom infrastructure as ubiquitous as air.
Or shareholders just might turn them into outsiders.