George Ou & Bret Swanson on Berkman Broadband Report

by on October 21, 2009 · 15 comments

Last night here on the TLF, Bret Swanson raised a number of objections with this FCC-commissioned report about international broadband comparisons, which was conducted by some folks at Harvard University’s Berkman Center. Meanwhile, over at the Digital Society blog, George Ou also offers a hard-nosed look at the Berkman broadband report and concludes “The underlying data cited by Berkman study is simply too flawed to be of any use.”  I recommend everyone check out both essays.  It will be interesting to hear how the Berkman folks respond.  Some of these international broadband comparisons are really fishy.  [Here’s a podcast we did on that issue two years ago.]

One quick point… Like Bret, I also found it shocking that–even though the report reads like an ode to forced access regulation–the Berkman folks didn’t spend much time discussing the result of America’s previous open-access regime. “The gaping, jaw-dropping irony of the report,” Bret argues, “was its failure even to mention the chief outcome of America’s previous open-access regime: the telecom/tech crash of 2000-02. We tried this before. And it didn’t work!”  Indeed, America’s regulatory experiment with forced access regulation involved a lot of well intentioned laws and regulation, and too many acronyms to count–CLECs, TELRIC, UNE-P, etc– but it did not result in serious, facilities-based competition.  Instead it offered us the fiction of competition through network-sharing, or what Peter Huber once referred to as building “networks out of paper.” The results were disastrous for investment during that period since regulatory uncertainly led to a lot of stunted innovation.

In sum, sharing is not competing.  You can socialize and commoditize old pipes for awhile and get decent results in the short-term, but you’ll sacrifice long-run investment and innovation if you do.  [For more background, see my recent essay on “The Fiction of Forced Access ‘Competition’ Revisited” and this old Cato piece on “UNE-P and the Future of Telecom “Competition” as well as Jeff Eisenach’s PFF white paper, “Broadband Policy: Does the U.S. Have It Right After All?”]

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