Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has been a long time proponent of an open and competitive Internet, as limited regulation has afforded its unprecedented growth and development.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to produce a national broadband plan that would stimulate growth in providing broadband access across the United States. On July 21, 2009, CAGW sent a letter to the FCC cautioning government intervention in this private industry. Irresponsible or hastily planned policy toward universal broadband service could have a detrimental effect on Internet innovation.
Yesterday, the FCC released an executive summary of its National Broadband Plan. Jerry Elling of the Mercatus Center has detailed many of the FCC’s recommendations:
Recommendation: “Undertake a comprehensive review of wholesale competition rules to help ensure competition in fixed and mobile broadband.” This could signal that the FCC plans to re-impose “unbundling” or “line sharing” regulations, which would require broadband companies to let competitors use their lines and other facilities at regulated rates. Such initiatives would likely undermine broadband deployment and investment. Economic research by my GMU colleague Tom Hazlett and others finds that broadband investment, competition, deployment in the US took off only after the FCC eliminated line-sharing requirements. Christina Forsberg and I summarized a lot of this research here.
Recommendation: “Make 500 Mhz of spectrum available for broadband within ten years … Enable incentives and mechanisms to repurpose spectrum.” This is a fantastic recommendation. A Mercatus Center review of the costs of federal telecommunications regulations found that federal spectrum allocation, which prevents spectrum from being reallocated to uses that consumers value highly (like broadband), is by far the costliest federal regulation affecting telecom and the Internet. This recommendation indicates the FCC leadership would like to auction a lot more spectrum and share the proceeds with existing users (like broadcasters) in order to overcome resistance to reallocation. It’s not quite a market in spectrum, but it might be the closest the FCC can come.
Recommendation: “Broaden the USF contribution base to ensure USF remains sustainable over time.” Uh-oh. I’m not sure what this means, but if means that broadband subscribers will have to start paying into the FCC’s universal service fund (USF), watch out! Most economic studies find that consumer demand for broadband is very price-sensitive. That means if the FCC slaps broadband with universal service fees (which currently exceed 10 percent), we’ll see a big drop in broadband subscribership — maybe by 4-7 million subscribers. This is, of course, precisely the opposite of what the FCC wants to accomplish!
Recommendation: “Reform intercarrier compensation, which provides implicit subsidies to telephone companies by eliminating per minute charges over the next ten years…” Another excellent idea. “Intercarrier compensation” refers to payments phone companies make when they hand traffic off to each other. Small, rural phone companies usually receive the highest per minute payments — as much as 15-30 cents per minute! This is a huge markup on long-distance phone service — another price-sensitive service!
Recommendation: Provide subsidies so that rural areas can have broadband with download speeds of 4 MB. It will be interesting to read in the full plan where this 4 MB figure came from. Does it reflect the speed of service that a lot of Americans currently have, so these subsidies are just supposed to help equalize opportunities for rural residents? Or does it reflect some balancing of the costs and benefits of subsidizing broadband in rural areas? Or is this a magic number experts believe subscribers need, regardless of the choices consumers actually make in the marketplace and regardless of what it costs?
CAGW cautions that any successful plan for stimulating broadband growth through the nation must include cooperation with the private industry. The advancements in current widespread availability of diverse connectivity options have been spurred by private capital through the free market. The FCC should really be focused on policies that would enhance the current offerings by reducing barriers to entry and allowing more competition in the telecommunications marketplace.
Filed under: Pork