Columnist : Albert Paschall

C:1972/TIMES-HERALD/NORRISTOWN, PA: The first computer I ever worked at was as big and heavy as a refrigerator. It operated from a series of ‘C’ codes that I could never remember. Every command started with C: something or another followed by slashes, commas and dots. They were changed so often that I had to write my cheat sheets in pencil so I could keep up with them every day. Technology in Pennsylvania has advanced way beyond those days but Democrats in Harrisburg seem to want to take us back to those complicated, clunky days of old. Market driven technologies work for consumers while state sponsored and government protected technologies fail. The histories are clear just take a look at the ‘C’ codes.

C:1948/MAHANOY-CITY/LEHIGH VALLEYPENNSYLVANIA: In 1948 John Walson an employee of Pennsylvania Power and Light buys a General Electric franchise store with his wife. They can’t sell televisions because reception is so bad down in the valley. Mr. Walson puts an antenna on a mountain top and runs a new form of wire, coaxial cable, down to the town. Reception improves dramatically, television sales soar but the big demand is for the new service: cable TV. Walson and his partner, Milton Shapp, go on to wire Pennsylvania’s rural areas to get clear, crisp TV reception. Shapp is elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1971.

C:1983/MICROSOFTBILL GATES: In the late 1970’s a slightly dyslexic kid gets thrown out of the house for taking apart his father’s computer. Frustrated over the complicated ‘C’ codes he was looking for an easier way to make them work. By 1983 he figured out that if he combined them into symbols, and clicked on them with a wand he called a mouse, he could easily get into any computer program. When Bill Gates’ mouse opened Microsoft Windows to consumers in 1990 the world gained access to technology.

C:/1993/ALEXANDRIA,VA/QUALCAM/AOL: Steve Case, founder and CEO of Qualcam Computer Services changes the name of his consumer friendly online service to America Online. 43 million American households became members spurring Europe Online and leading AOL to buy Time-Warner. The merger leads to the first fusion of online technology with broadcast and print subscriptions through DSL connections.

C:OCTOBER-2003/COMCAST/3RD-QUARTER-RESULTS: The president of the state’s largest monopoly, Comcast Cable Systems, reports that “demand for our high speed Internet service is stronger than ever. We added more than 472,000 new high-speed Internet customers, a 39% increase from last year’s third quarter results.” Comcast also reported operating clash flow growth of $1.6 billion. Through Mr. Walson’s pioneering efforts cable is the dominant provider of TV and Internet services in rural Pennsylvania, as long as you are willing to pay for it. Unlike other utilities: electricity, telephone and water that are regulated by the state, cable is regulated by the towns that it serves. Towns it pays royalties to based on subscriber’s demands and costs.

C:NOVEMMBER-2003DEMOCRATS/PA-REWIND/TECHNOLOGY-HARRISBURG,PA: – While technology has been advancing in the state, House and Senate Democrats don’t think that growth is fast enough. They want to create a whole new bureaucracy called the Pennsylvania Telecommunications Commission. It would strip the Public Utilities Commission of its oversight of telephone costs and rules. Consumers would no longer have right to address telephone issues before the PUC. It would cost the Commonwealth’s taxpayers another $3.6 billion for basic telephone service. To Democrats it’s just another cost of doing business in Pennsylvania, just another layer of government charged with implementing new technologies. Something a government has never done and something Pennsylvania’s will never be capable of doing. In the meantime the cable monopolies get off the hook. It’s far more profitable for them to provide entertainment services in urban markets than basic communications in rural areas. With the same regulation that the state imposes on other utilities there isn’t a reason that the state’s cable TV companies couldn’t supply inexpensive Internet services to every rural area in Pennsylvania and they could do it today.

C:/2013/PENNSYLVANIA/SOMEWHERE OUT THERE: The real problem with the Democratic plan for a Pennsylvania Telecommunications Commission is that no one knows what new technology may come along. While the taxpayers are burdened with $3.6 billion in new taxes, someday there will be another John Walson or Bill Gates with an idea that will change the way technology and communications work. Digital wireless is already doing that in an unregulated environment and these services will grow. If the Democrats prevail the state will be rewinding 30 years of technological advances. All we will be is $3.6 billion poorer, saddled with a new bureaucracy that will live forever as another burden on doing business and creating jobs in Pennsylvania.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.
[email protected]