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Regulatory Comments AT&T's petition presents the FCC with a stark choice: Bootstrap the regulations of a dying 20th century technology platform onto the networks of the future, to ever-diminishing consumer benefits, or take the lead in coordinating the transition to “Internet Everywhere”...
AT&T’s petition presents the FCC with a stark choice: Bootstrap the regulations of a dying 20th century technology platform onto the networks of the future, to ever-diminishing consumer benefits, or take the lead in coordinating the transition to “Internet Everywhere”—Internet analyst Larry Downes’ term for a single IP-based networking standard built into all next-generation infrastructure and equipment.
A wide range of disparate, private wired and wireless networks using a variety of different hardware and software protocols are now converging on native IP technologies—sometimes by accident but increasingly by design. Once doubted, IP has now been embraced by traditional wireline, mobile, cable and satellite providers, as well as incumbent and next-generation content providers. Data, voice, and video are all converging onto a single standard, available wherever and whenever consumers want it. Internet Everywhere in the near future is within our grasp—if only the Commission does what is necessary to allow and encourage it.
While we believe the FCC has a crucial, long-term role to play in shepherding the IP Transition, as outlined in TechFreedom’s Comment, this Reply Comment argues that the FCC should resist the urging of many commenters in this docket to erect regulatory barriers, however well-meaning, to protect consumers from harms that have not materialized and are unlikely ever to do so.
Instead, the Commission should adopt a clear program to facilitate the successful transition to an all-IP network by ensuring that it is unencumbered by inappropriate, legacy regulations. To start, the FCC should approve AT&T’s petition. While the resulting trials are carried out, the agency should move to identify a date certain for concluding the IP Transition. And at the same time, the agency should make clear its intention to refrain from applying interconnection mandates and the apparatus of Title II to the IP network, thereby preempting conflicting state regulations that would otherwise derail the agency’s efforts.
Popular Media As Democrats insist that income taxes on the 1% must go up in the name of fairness, one Democratic Senator wants to make sure that the 1% of heaviest Internet users pay the same price as the rest of us.
By Geoffrey Manne & Berin Szoka
As Democrats insist that income taxes on the 1% must go up in the name of fairness, one Democratic Senator wants to make sure that the 1% of heaviest Internet users pay the same price as the rest of us. It’s ironic how confused social justice gets when the Internet’s involved.
Senator Ron Wyden is beloved by defenders of Internet freedom, most notably for blocking the Protect IP bill—sister to the more infamous SOPA—in the Senate. He’s widely celebrated as one of the most tech-savvy members of Congress. But his latest bill, the “Data Cap Integrity Act,” is a bizarre, reverse-Robin Hood form of price control for broadband. It should offend those who defend Internet freedom just as much as SOPA did.
Wyden worries that “data caps” will discourage Internet use and allow “Internet providers to extract monopoly rents,” quoting a New York Times editorial from July that stirred up a tempest in a teapot. But his fears are straw men, based on four false premises.
First, US ISPs aren’t “capping” anyone’s broadband; they’re experimenting with usage-based pricing—service tiers. If you want more than the basic tier, your usage isn’t capped: you can always pay more for more bandwidth. But few users will actually exceed that basic tier. For example, Comcast’s basic tier, 300 GB/month, is so generous that 98.5% of users will not exceed it. That’s enough for 130 hours of HD video each month (two full-length movies a day) or between 300 and 1000 hours of standard (compressed) video streaming.
Second, Wyden sets up a false dichotomy: Caps (or tiers, more accurately) are, according to Wyden, “appropriate if they are carefully constructed to manage network congestion,” but apparently for Wyden the only alternative explanation for usage-based pricing is extraction of monopoly rents. This simply isn’t the case, and propagating that fallacy risks chilling investment in network infrastructure. In fact, usage-based pricing allows networks to charge heavy users more, thereby recovering more costs and actually reducing prices for the majority of us who don’t need more bandwidth than the basic tier permits—and whose usage is effectively subsidized by those few who do. Unfortunately, Wyden’s bill wouldn’t allow pricing structures based on cost recovery—only network congestion. So, for example, an ISP might be allowed to price usage during times of peak congestion, but couldn’t simply offer a lower price for the basic tier to light users.
That’s nuts—from the perspective of social justice as well as basic economic rationality. Even as the FCC was issuing its famous Net Neutrality regulations, the agency rejected proposals to ban usage-based pricing, explaining:
prohibiting tiered or usage-based pricing and requiring all subscribers to pay the same amount for broadband service, regardless of the performance or usage of the service, would force lighter end users of the network to subsidize heavier end users. It would also foreclose practices that may appropriately align incentives to encourage efficient use of networks.
It is unclear why Senator Wyden thinks the FCC—no friend of broadband “monopolists”—has this wrong.
Third, charging heavy users more isn’t just more equitable, it’s actually a solution to the very problem Wyden worries about: ensuring that ISPs have an incentive to encourage Internet use. Tiered pricing means they actually benefit from heavy use. So rather than try to slow use or discriminate against bandwidth-heavy applications—which is how the Net Neutrality fight started—ISPs will continue to build out faster networks.
Now, it’s certainly possible that, if the basic tier were set low enough or if additional data were expensive enough, cable companies could discourage their subscribers from canceling a cable subscription and switching to a competing service like Netflix. But it’s hard to see how a 300 GB basic tier deters anyone, especially when users can buy additional blocks of 50 GB for just $10/month—enough for nearly two more hours a day of streamed video. If there actually were a problem here, antitrust law could address it far better than blunt pricing restrictions. Indeed, such an investigation is already ongoing.
Finally, Wyden would require that broadband providers count content download from them against your usage—fearing that a “discriminatory cap” would harm competing video providers. But if the “cap” is high enough, who cares? Under antitrust law, such “discrimination” is illegal only if it harms consumers—and it’s hard to see how consumers suffer from being able to download more video. Would they really be better off if every hour of video they streamed from their cable company meant an hour less they could stream from Netflix? That’s what Wyden’s bill would require.
The recent kerfuffle over Comcast’s decision in October to make some of its television (pay per view) content available through Xbox without counting against Internet usage limits brought this point into stark relief. While activists like Public Knowledge decried the decision for the same reasons Wyden does now, they missed the fact that by removing some of its content from usage limits Comcast was actually freeing up users to access more content at lower prices.
If Wyden’s concern is that usage-based pricing would allow ISPs to extract “monopoly profits” from users who bump up against tiers, then “preferencing” some of their own content will reduce, not increase, that risk: Users would be able to access, say, bandwidth-heavy video content just as they do television content now—without it counting against Internet usage limits. That this might “discriminate” against other Internet-based content providers does not mean that it harms consumers—quite the opposite, in fact. Again, to the extent that it might, antitrust rules are more than sufficient to discourage such practices in the first place or punish them if they arise—without restricting firms’ ability to price their content and manage their networks to ensure a reasonable return on their investments.
Pricing structures for broadband are still evolving. Just this year, Comcast moved from its original 250 GB cap—which it never enforced—to today’s 300 GB basic tier, and other broadband providers will likely follow suit. Those plans will probably continue to evolve towards pricing structures that minimize network congestion—like offering periods of unmetered use in the middle of the night, when network use plummets. That would go a long way to allaying concerns about the effect of tiered plans on competition, since Netflix could send your favorite shows and the next movies in your queue to the device of your choice while you sleep. But pricing structures also have to allow sensible, fair recovery of costs—which the Wyden bill would simply ban.
So much for not blithely regulating the Internet, Senator!
Filed under: antitrust, business, federal communications commission, net neutrality, regulation, technology, telecommunications, television Tagged: Broadband, Comcast, Data Caps, FCC, Internet service provider, net neutrality, Ron Wyden, Usage-Based Pricing, Wyden
Regulatory Comments The FCC’s current policies and rules regarding mobile spectrum holdings are in desperate need of an upgrade.
The FCC’s current policies and rules regarding mobile spectrum holdings are in desperate need of an upgrade. The landscape of the wireless market has changed dramatically over the last several years, and consumers’ demand for mobile broadband services is skyrocketing with little new supply [of spectrum?] coming online [available?] in the near future. If consumers’ demands are to be met, spectrum must be allowed to “rise to its highest valued use.” This means there must be a functional market by which spectrum can be transferred from those who currently hold it to those who value it more. In other words, to paraphrase Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune, “the spectrum must flow!”
But for that to happen the FCC can’t sit as an impediment to consumer-welfare enhancing transactions that re-allocate spectrum to these highest valued uses. The Commission’s current spectrum transfer review process is not up to the task, and some of the proposed reforms would only exacerbate the problem. Heeding Commissioner’s McDowell’s urging that “interested parties  comment on the potential for negative market effects should the Commission inch down the road toward spectrum caps or other new mandates,” we submit this comment to suggest that the FCC must adopt a more economically-rigorous approach to license transfer reviews — one that does not trade away effectiveness for the sake of mere administrability nor dynamic, forward-looking efficiency for the sake of the Commission’s flawed vision of an optimal, static market structure.
Rather, the FCC should follow the lead of its antitrust agency counterparts and employ a “rule of reason” analysis in its review of spectrum transfers. Moreover, the FCC should defer to the comparative advantage of its antitrust agency counterparts in the review of transactions that come before both the FCC and the DOJ or FTC, and forebear from such analysis entirely except to inform and advise the DOJ’s or FTC’s comprehensive antitrust review. Under no circumstances should the FCC re-impose spectrum caps or other new mandates that would only serve to thwart, not encourage, the progress of our wireless markets: While the current review process is flawed, a spectrum cap would be even worse.
Regulatory Comments It has been said that sometimes the best way to know the weather, is to step outside. For the FCC, it is time to take that first step outside into the reality of competition in the mobile marketplace.
It has been said that sometimes the best way to know the weather, is to step outside. For the FCC, it is time to take that first step outside into the reality of competition in the mobile marketplace. The mobile market stands as one of the few bright spots in the economy, limited primarily by severe constraints on its chief asset: spectrum. Verizon has decided to undertake what any prudent business would do—obtain those inputs necessary for its continued growth.
Critics of the proposed transaction lament the concentration of more spectrum in the hands of one of the industry’s biggest players. But this implicit equation of concentration with harm to consumers is unsupported and misplaced. Concentration of resources in the hands of the largest wireless providers has not slowed the growth of the market; the problem is that growth in demand has dramatically outpaced capacity. Meanwhile, whatever the claimed merits may be of other, smaller companies holding this spectrum (as the deal’s opponents seem to want), that theoretical deal is not before the Agency, and the Commission is precluded from evaluating this deal in light of that hypothetical alternative.
While the FCC undeniably has authority to review the license transfers under the Federal Communications Act, its purview to review transactions is intentionally limited in substantive scope, and the Commercial Agreements that the deal’s opponents want to bootstrap into the FCC’s review are outside of it. Whether those agreements have anticompetitive effect is properly the province of the Department of Justice and their effect on competition is best measured under the antitrust laws, not by the FCC under its vague “public interest” standard. Indeed, if the FCC can assert jurisdiction over the Commercial Agreements as part of its public interest review, its authority over license transfers will become a license to regulate all aspects of business—duplicating merger review by the DOJ, but under a standard of review that lacks any clear limiting principles and analytical rigor. This is a recipe for certain mischief.
In the final analysis, the mobile wireless telecommunications services market is not concentrated to the extent that anticompetitive effects would result from this transaction. At the same time, the need for all competitors, including Verizon, to obtain sufficient spectrum to meet increasing demand is so large that the transfer this deal contemplates of unused spectrum from companies with no means to deploy it to a company that has demonstrated itself to be one of the most significant in the industry is plainly in the public interest and should be approved.
TOTM Intel Chairman and CEO Paul Otellini recently gave the keynote address at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum on the US regulation environment and its . . .
Intel Chairman and CEO Paul Otellini recently gave the keynote address at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum on the US regulation environment and its effect of innovation and economic growth (HT: CNET, WSJ). The speech got some play in the media because of its overall depressing tone for the US, and its frank criticism of the current state of US regulatory affairs.
Read the full piece here.
TOTM Richard Thaler’s NYT Economic View column features Tom Hazlett (my colleague, and former chief economist as the FCC) proposal for auctioning off TV spectrum. Thaler . . .
Richard Thaler’s NYT Economic View column features Tom Hazlett (my colleague, and former chief economist as the FCC) proposal for auctioning off TV spectrum. Thaler points out…
Read the full piece here.
TOTM My colleague Tom Hazlett (George Mason University) has a characteristically thoughtful and provocative column in the Financial Times on the recent Clearwire joint venture and . . .
My colleague Tom Hazlett (George Mason University) has a characteristically thoughtful and provocative column in the Financial Times on the recent Clearwire joint venture and what it tells us about the “innovation commons” and current public policy debates such as network neutrality, spectrum property rights, and municipal wi-fi. Here’s an excerpt…
TOTM Geoff and Paul like the result in XM/ Sirius but are puzzled by the DOJ press release, in particular as it pertains to analyzing ex . . .
Geoff and Paul like the result in XM/ Sirius but are puzzled by the DOJ press release, in particular as it pertains to analyzing ex ante competition, or “competition for the field,” in the form of payments to automobile manufacturers to adopt their services. Geoff thinks the DOJ’s press release contains some funny language appearing to suggest that the existence of exclusive contracts meant that there was not competition. I think the relevant language is in the second sentence of the press release…
TOTM Hanno Kaiser at Antitrust Review discusses the implications of Google’s acquisition of YouTube for the net neutrality debate. Hanno opines that the deal may increase . . .
Hanno Kaiser at Antitrust Review discusses the implications of Google’s acquisition of YouTube for the net neutrality debate. Hanno opines that the deal may increase the likelihood of a neutrality result even without legislation. While Google’s public pro-neutrality stance is well known, GMU’s Tom Hazlett (my office neighbor and fellow UCLA Economics alum) has a great column in the Financial Times highlighting the difference between Google’s “public policy” stance on net neutrality and its business model. Here’s Hazlett on Google’s now well-known position on net neutrality legislation…