Deregulation: Bonanza Or Bust?

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 vowed to break up communications monopolies and spark competition. Here's how you can take advantage of a multibillion dollar industry.

snuff could mean big bucks, Several service providers, including phone companies, cable companies, Internet service providers and electrical subcontractors, can compete to supply services to these facilities, Rick Cimerman, director of state telecommunications policy for the National Cable Television Association in Washington, D.C., says business owners must enter into a competitive bidding process.

“If they are selected as the winning bidder, the competitively bid price is discounted 20%-90%,” says Cimerman. “The business owner then gets reimbursed for that discounted amount.” Computer equipment, curriculum software and teacher training are not covered by the discounts.

The Schools and Libraries Corp., which administers the fund, has created a Web site (www.slcfund.org) on which eligible schools post their requests for proposals (RFPs). These documents describe the types of services each school would like to purchase. “As a business owner you would go to this Web site and plug in the zip code that you’re interested in serving,” says Cimerman. “It will give you a list of schools in that area and the services they are requesting,” he says.

When preparing to do business with schools, first identify your local education decision makers. Call your local school district office to find out who makes decisions on buying technology.
Schedule a meeting with education officials to discuss the school’s technology needs and how your company can fill those needs. Be sure to conduct a technology assessment to determine if you have the resources to provide advanced services.

As a way to display your tech expertise and establish good faith with a potential customer, you can also offer to assist schools in writing their RFPs. Use technology-neutral language when creating these documents.

For more information about the Universal Service Fund, call the Education and Libraries Coalition hotline at 800-733-6860 or visit their Web site at www.eratehotline.org.

GETTING YOUR PIECE OF THE TELECOM PIE
Starting and growing a telecommunications firm can be costly. To ease the pain, Congress created the Telecommunications Development Fund (TDF). Another adjunct to the Telecom Act, TDF is a $21.9 million fund that provides loans, equity investments and technical assistance to small communications businesses. “After doing extensive research we found that capital is very scarce for new firms and that the problem is exacerbated for minority and women-owned firms, so the TDF focuses on companies in the start-up phase,” says Catherine Sandoval of the FCC.

Of course, capital isn’t the only stumbling block. Many business owners fail to study the industry before jumping right in. Whether you own a cabling company or Intern
et service, there are a few basic things you must do in order to get your piece of the multibillion-dollar telecommunications pie:

Research your industry. The telecommunications industry is a complex field, so it is important that you understand all of the regulations surrounding it. Telecon President Debra Brady, a former employee of a local phone-service provider, knew the telephone service business. But her husband James did his boning up on the industry by attending telecommunications seminars and taking a course about emerging technologies at San Francisco State University. He also

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