The changing telco landscape
Are there any telcos left? That may be the question you hear as service provider mergers and acquisitions increasingly become a fact of life. Ask someone who doesn't follow the telecom industry too closely how many telcos there are, and the answer is likely to be two, maybe three (if the person you're asking lives west of the Mississippi).
However, the fact is that telcos aren't disappearing. There are literally hundreds of them in the U.S. and many more beyond. They are all sizes, operating in the range of 100 access lines on up to 100,000, 1 million and more. It's true that their network technologies and services are changing in some ways that may lead us to think of them not first as telcos. It's also true that many of them were not founding members of the telco club, but if that were the only distinction used to identify the real telcos, no one would be in that club--the nature and structure of even those earliest companies has changed so much.
As the traditional telcos charge into data and video, new names enter the voice market, and everyone looks at how to integrate wireless, our fear, driven by politically-correct sensitivities, is not to call anyone by too-limiting a name. Ultimately, we're just too hung up (a telco pun, in case it went unnoticed) on labels. There are a lot of different services in telecom, and a lot of different service providers. What they have in common is not a collective past, but a collective interest in the future of telecom and the role they can play in it. Use the term "telco" only among friends if you wish, but if there's a description for the kind of company positioned to drive and take advantage of what's next in telecom, a telco fits that description as well, or better, than anything else. --Dan