The 600 MHz spectrum auction “represents the last best chance to promote competition” among mobile wireless service providers, according to the written testimony of T-Mobile executive who appeared before a congressional subcommittee Jul. 23 and testified in rhetoric that is reminiscent of a bygone era.
The idea that an activist Federal Communications Commission is necessary to preserve and promote competition is a throwback to the government-sanctioned Ma Bell monopoly era. Sprint still uses the term “Twin Bells” in its FCC pleadings to refer to AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the hope that, for those who can remember the Bell System, the incantation will elicit a visceral response. The fact is most of the FCC’s efforts to preserve and promote competition have failed, entailed serious collateral damage, or both.
Unless Congress and the FCC get the details right, the implementation of an innovative auction that will free up spectrum that is currently underutilized for broadcasting and make it available for mobile communications could fail to raise in excess of $7 billion for building a nationwide public safety network and making a down payment on the national debt. Aside from ensuring that broadcasting is not disrupted in the process, one important detail concerns whether the auctioning will be open to every qualified bidder, or whether government officials will, in effect, pick winners and losers before the auctioning begins. Continue reading →
Richard Brandt, technology journalist and author, discusses his new book, One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.Com. Brandt discusses Bezos’ entrepreneurial drive, his business philosophy, and how he’s grown Amazon to become the biggest retailer in the world. This episode also covers the biggest mistake Bezos ever made, how Amazon uses patent laws to its advantage, whether Amazon will soon become a publishing house, Bezos’ idea for privately-funded space exploration and his plan to revolutionize technology with quantum computing.
This week at CTIA 2013, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel presented ten ideas for spectrum policy. Though I don’t agree with all of them, she articulated a reasonable vision for spectrum policy that prioritizes consumer demand, incorporates market-oriented solutions, and establishes transparent goals and timelines. Commissioner Rosenworcel’s principled approach stands in stark contrast to the intellectually bankrupt incentive auction recommendation offered by the Department of Justice last month. Continue reading →
Frontline relied on the DOJ foreclosure theory to predict that the lack of eligibility restrictions in the 700 MHz auction would “inevitably” increase prices, stifle innovation, and reduce the diversity of service offerings as Verizon and AT&T warehoused the spectrum. In reality, the exact opposite occurred.
The DOJ recently recommended that the FCC rig the upcoming incentive auction to ensure Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile are winners and Verizon and AT&T are losers. I previously noted that the DOJ spectrum plan (1) inconsistent with its own findings in recent merger proceedings and the intent of Congress, (2) inherently discriminatory, and (3) irrational as applied. Additional analysis indicates that it isn’t supported by economic theory or FCC factual findings either. Continue reading →
DISH Network gets another opportunity on Tuesday to plead with Congress for another Satellite Home Viewer Act reauthorization—ostensibly to protect consumers from unwarranted rate increases and program blackouts, but actually to preserve and expand DISH Network’s and DirecTV’s access to broadcast programming at regulated, below-market rates.
A couple minor provisions in the Act that have nearly outlived their original purpose are due to expire, but DISH Network is taking advantage of this opportunity to argue that “there is much more that Congress can do to expand consumers’ access to local programming…” DISH’s plea is an example of the narcotic effect of supposedly benign regulation intended to promote competition by giving nascent competitors a leg up. DISH Network, in particular, has become addicted to artificially low prices for broadcast programming, and will seize any opportunity to reduce its programming costs some more through regulation.One of the problems with betting your shareowners’ company on regulation is that in politics, nothing lasts forever. Another is that there are certain laws of economics, and they still apply. Shareowners really ought to be on high alert for the appearance of a Beltway, State Capitol or City Hall strategy—firms that can compete and win in the marketplace have no need for regulatory advantages.
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Over at Freedom to Tinker, Steve Schultze has a response to my Reason article about Craigslist suing its competitors. Steve expresses some surprise that I would suggest that we might want to recognize a new property right since I have been so critical of the excesses of our current IP regime. Let me take a stab at reconciling that seeming paradox.
First, I should say I’m sympathetic to Steve’s position, which he shares with many others, and which may well be right. I wrote the Reason article more than anything to provide some balance to what I saw as a knee-jerk reaction in the blogosphere to the Craigslist ruling. I really didn’t see anyone giving Craigslist’s claims a fair shake (probably because the company is acting hypocritically given the public profile they have cultivated). That’s why in the article I’m ambivalent about whether Craigslist should have any remedy, and why I don’t make the case that trespass to chattels is the right approach. The point is that neither am I convinced that it’s clearly the wrong approach, or that Craigslist should clearly not be waging this suit.
That said, let me suggest that my thinking on this is not at odds with my thinking on copyright. Steve chides me for saying that maybe there’s something to Craigslist’s claims because what its competitors are doing doesn’t “sit well.” He says that “the notion that something doesn’t ‘sit well’ is not necessarily a good indicator that one can or should prevail in legal action,” and he’s right, which is why I don’t make that claim in the article. He goes on to admit that “to be sure, tort law (and common law more generally) develops in part out of our collective notion of what does or doesn’t seem right.” And that was my point. The fact that what Craigslist’s competitors are doing doesn’t sit well, I suggest, should give us a hint that this isn’t as open-and-shut a case as some have made it out to be, and that perhaps we should take a closer look.
I’m glad Steve brings up the common law. One of the central critiques I have made about copyright as a property right is that it did not develop at common law, and is instead a creature of statute. The fact that copyright is created by politicians guessing about the future (and influenced by special interests), rather than courts deciding actual cases and controversies, is what in large part leads to its excesses. I am much less skeptical of property rights that emerge at common law over time after an evolutionary process of trial and error, and as Steve points out, this process usually begins when a court is presented with a novel question that doesn’t “sit well.”
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I plan to write more about broadband competition and the impact of Google Fiber but in the meantime, there is a New York Times article on the subject that I’ll briefly address.
The author, Eduardo Porter, misdiagnoses why tiered pricing in broadband exists, giving readers the impression that only monopolies price discriminate:
That means that in most American neighborhoods, consumers are stuck with a broadband monopoly. And monopolies don’t strive to offer the best, cheapest service. Rather, they use speed as a tool to discriminate by price — coaxing consumers who are willing to pay for high-speed broadband into more costly and profitable tiers.
Continue reading →
Over at Reason I take a look at the recent controversy around Craigslist suing some smaller competitors who have been using its listings data without permission. While I agree with most commentators that neither copyright nor CFAA claims make sense in this case, I depart from what seems to be the conventional thinking in arguing that it’s not so clear that Craigslist should have no remedy:
>[I]t’s pretty easy to see why Craigslist should care that others are building on top of and extending its service. What makes the company so valuable is its strong network effect. People go to Craigslist because that’s where the people are. If it loses that, it loses its business.
>PadMapper aggregates and presents listings not just from Craigslist, but from other apartment listing sites as well, including Apartments.com and Rent.com. This is great for users because they only need go to one site to browse all the listings across multiple databases. It’s bad for Craigslist, however, because it makes it less of a focal site. Such aggregators make it less important that an apartment be listed at Craigslist specifically as long as it is in the aggregated list.
>PadMapper also offers listings of its own listings through its PadLister service. This means that PadMapper relies on the network effects that Craigslist has developed in order to draw in an audience, and then promotes and sells its own listing service to that audience. While that business model is certainly innovative, and may not violate copyright, it doesn’t sit well, either.
>Craigslist disrupted the newspaper industry by decimating traditional classifieds. It did this by offering a better alternative to its competitors that attracted consumers away from newspapers. Craigslist didn’t copy newspaper ads to jumpstart its operation, just as Facebook didn’t jumpstart its network by copying over MySpace accounts. That’s true innovation: taking command of the network effect by offering a superior product. So shouldn’t we expect the same from new entrants in the classifieds space?
Check out the whole thing here.
The Information Economy Project at the George Mason University School of Law is hosting a conference tomorrow, Friday, April 19. The conference title is From Monopoly to Competition or Competition to Monopoly? U.S. Broadband Markets in 2013. There will be two morning panels featuring discussion of competition in the broadband marketplace and the social value of “ultra-fast” broadband speeds.
We have a great lineup, including keynote addresses from Commissioner Joshua Wright, Federal Trade Commission and from Dr. Robert Crandall, Brookings Institution.
The panelists include:
Eli Noam, Columbia Business School
Marius Schwartz, Georgetown University, former FCC Chief Economist
Babette Boliek, Pepperdine University School of Law
Robert Kenny, Communications Chambers (U.K.)
Scott Wallsten, Technology Policy Institute
The panels will be moderated by Kenneth Heyer, Federal Trade Commission and Gus Hurwitz, University of Pennsylvania, respectively. A continental breakfast will be served at 8:00 am and a buffet lunch is provided. We expect to adjourn at 1:30 pm. You can find an agenda here and can RSVP here. Space is limited and we expect a full house, so those interested are encouraged to register as soon as possible.