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Copper Wire -- A technology whose time has passed

In the last century, we have seen many technologies come and go. Before the car, came the horse and buggy; before computers, there were typewriters; and before wireless and fiber broadband networks, there was copper wire. 

There aren’t many horse and buggies on the road and most of us don’t have typewriters sitting on our desks.  So why are copper networks still so widely used although they have been rendered obsolete by next-generation technologies?

The simple answer is that federal, state and local regulations are stuck in the past.

The legacy copper Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) provided the backbone of national telephone networks for more than 100 years. But today, IP-based networks deliver connection speeds and new products and services unequaled by anything delivered via copper. Recognizing this, consumers are abandoning outdated copper services at a rapid pace, instead opting for more reliable wireless and wired IP-based networks.

Why are copper networks still so widely used although they have been rendered obsolete by next-generation technologies?

Still today, federal and state governments have rules in place requiring providers to maintain a copper wire infrastructure even though it has become impractical, inefficient, and very costly.   As copper wire becomes increasingly obsolete across the country regulations must keep pace with the consumer demands of the 21st Century.

Take the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, for example. As the storm wreaked havoc on many parts of the Eastern seaboard, high winds and heavy rains completely wiped out the local communications infrastructure in some areas – infrastructure that included copper wire networks.

As the rebuilding process continues, many see great value in taking this opportunity to replace outdated copper wire networks with the most modern and useful technologies available. Aside from the benefits of faster connection speeds and advanced service offerings, these new technologies provide next-generation wireless and fiber networks that can withstand harsher environmental interference and can be upgraded as technology improves without the expense of deploying an entirely new network.

This means better and more reliable service for consumers at an  ultimately lower cost.

But regulations are currently threatening these upgrades from taking place, instead requiring companies to replace the copper wire networks of yesteryear. Services that used to be available only through copper wire can now be provided by fiber and wireless networks at reduced cost and at greater speeds. To continue to invest in antiquated copper technologies not only hurts consumers and providers, but also the economy-at-large by slowing investment, innovation and growth.

Traditional copper networks are no longer applicable to the needs and benefits of today’s technologies. It doesn't make economic or practical sense to continue requiring telecommunications companies to preserve obsolete copper wire technologies when wireless and fiber networks can offer better connections more efficiently.

Regulations should not favor a century-old technology over the most cutting-edge of today’s services.

Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. His latest book, with co-author Elizabeth Ames, is "Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – and What We Can Do About It  (McGraw-Hill May 13, 2014).