Cable Franchise Deregulation and Broadband Deployment

by on May 5, 2010 · 3 comments

A recent study by Cecil Bohanon and Michael Hicks at Ball State University’s Digital Policy Institute found that statewide cable franchising has increased broadband deployment.

Half of the US states have now enacted legislation that creates statewide cable franchising. These laws allow new entrants into the video business (principally the phone companies) to get permission to offer video from the state, instead of having to deal with local governments to get cable franchises. Previous research, much of it cited here, found that cable competition reduces cable rates and expands the number of channels available to subscribers. Local franchising often delayed or prevented new competitors from entering the market.

Since the same wires get used to transmit video, telephone, and broadband, Bohanon and Hicks reasoned that opening up entry into cable would also increase competition in broadband and hence increase broadband subscribership. And that’s precisely what their econometric study finds. After controlling for other factors, broadband subscribership is 2-5 percent higher in states that have statewide video franchising. Based on this finding, Bohanon and Hicks estimate that statewide video franchising increased broadband subscribership by about 5 million.

Their study covers the years 1999-2008. Maybe some of these 5 million would eventually have gotten broadband anyway. At worst, this study shows that 5 million subscribers got broadband sooner than they otherwise would have.

The study does not test whether the increase in broadband subscribership occurred because statewide video franchising sped up investment and deployment of infrastructure, or if it simply spurred competition in places where phone and cable companies already had the relevant infrastructure deployed.  I don’t know how one would get the confidential data on broadband investment in order to test this.  But given the large amount of new investment related to broadband, I’d be willing to bet that statewide franchising encouraged both new broadband deployment and more intense competition where infrastructure was already in place.

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