PPI: Net neutrality problems “simply do not exist”

by on July 19, 2013 · 3 comments

The Progressive Policy Institute has released a new and remarkable broadband report. In it, PPI explicitly distances itself from the Crawford/Wu wing of the left-of-center telecommunications conversation. A money quote from the introduction:

What should the progressive agenda be? Are our choices either to embrace this aggressive regulatory agenda or to accede to conservative laissez-faire? This essay argues that there is a third, and far more promising, option for such a progressive broadband policy agenda. It balances respect for the private investment that has built the nation’s broadband infrastructure with the need to realize the Internet’s full promise as a form of social infrastructure and a tool for individual empowerment. It turns away from problems we may reasonably fear but that simply do not exist—most importantly, the idea that the provision of broadband services is dominated by an anti-competitive “duopoly” that stifles the broad dissemination of content.

On “cage match” competition in the telecom sector:

So perhaps the greatest paradox inherent in “cage match” competition is that, while advocates champion more intrusive regulation, the signal providers are in the fight of their business lives. The benefits of their innovation and investment are being appropriated by the devices and services that use the signal; their stock values and capitalizations are listless compared to the companies that make devices and applications; they have made commitments in the tens of billions to build infrastructure that cannot be reversed. And they are trapped in a vicious circle: they innovate to improve signal quality and availability, these innovations make possible new devices, applications, and services that capture consumer allegiance, these other aspects of the broadband experience appropriate value and make signal more commodity-like in the eyes of consumers, which forces the providers to further improve their product, perpetuating the cycle. They are the economy’s front line for investing in and innovating for our broadband infrastructure, and perhaps they benefit from that investment and innovation the least.

From the section entitled “Neutrality,” “Unbundling,” and other progressive policy failures:

The weight of the evidence, therefore, suggests the activist agenda leads progressives to a dead end. It addresses a problem that doesn’t exist—the absence of competition in broadband—and compromises another and more important objective—investment in broadband leading to ubiquitous broadband access. In reality, access providers have made massive investments in high-fixed cost broadband wired and wireless capacity that they can only justify by competing for market share and that are continually improving. The case that they are suppressing or might suppress content—either editorially or competitively—is virtually nonexistent.

This analysis is spot on. While I don’t agree with every policy proposal in the report (though I do agree with some, such as liberating spectrum from the broadcasters and DoD), PPI deserves a lot of credit for its excellent study of the state of telecommunications competition.

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