Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Investment'

Tuesday, October 11

The Investment Mixed Bag


The Progressive Policy Institute has released its annual “Investment Heroes” report on the top 25 companies putting dollars in America, and once again the telecom/cable sector topped the list with a combined capex investment of more than $48 billion.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that investment from the telecom/cable sector was actually down compared to previous years. From the report:

AT&T and Verizon invested large sums to maintain and expand their networks again this year. However, according to our estimates, AT&T’s capital expenditure was down by 11.6 percent as compared to the previous year.

While this is undoubtedly due to a number of factors, uncertainty about the FCC’s direction — namely, Title II regulation of the internet ecosystem — surely played a big role, especially from telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon. As IIA wrote in a 2014 filing with the FCC:

The continued success — and the future innovation — of our current Internet ecosystem… is seriously threatened by the proposal to reclassify broadband Internet access services under Title II. Indeed, it is hard to think of an action that would pose a greater threat to innovation and continued growth of the Internet than the proposal to reverse existing and sound precedent by reclassifying broadband Internet access under Title II of the Act.

Given the FCC’s Title II reclassification is just over a year old, it’s too early for a full picture of its impact on continuing investment. But these numbers from the Progressive Policy Institute hint at what could certainly become a trend in the coming years. Let’s hope all of us who warned the Commission about reduced investment are proven wrong.

Tuesday, October 04

The Damage of Mandatory BDS Price Cuts


A new research paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs of the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy details potential damage from FCC-mandated price cuts on Business Data Services (BDS). From the paper:

We model the effect of mandatory BDS price cuts on the free cash flows of BDS providers. We conclude that BDS rate-cuts are likely to do serious damage to the financials of competitive providers, i.e. non-incumbents, as well as incumbents who provide BDS infrastructure. Because company valuations reflect multiples of cash flow, decreases in cash flow are likely to result in lower valuations. The heaviest damage is likely to be to those who are primarily facilities-based, but the free cash flows and valuations of resellers are also likely to be harmed.

Also of note in the paper:

• Since all BDS providers will be hit financially, their ability to afford the network buildout both the Obama Administration and the FCC want to see by 2020 will also be affected.

• Mandating price cuts for high-capacity Ethernet and dark fiber will have a significant impact on the free cash flow of BDS providers, making it more difficult for them to make the business case for the costly migration from 4G to 5G technology.

Since both the buildout by 2020 and the migration to 5G listed above are a focal point for the FCC, why would the Commission want to undermine their own agenda by mandating BDS price cuts? Hopefully the FCC will provide an answer to this question — or better yet, move away from mandating price cuts altogether.

Kovacs’ paper is titled “Business data services: The potential harm to competitive facilities deployment.” You can check it out for yourself here.

Tuesday, September 27

Election Night & Beyond


Over at The Street, our own Bruce Mehlman writes about the election and what it could mean for tech and investment. An excerpt:

[I]n this world of technological convergence, in which companies offering Internet, video, and traditional communications services are merging (some quite literally and others through expanding their business lines), investors should know that there are some critical decisions on the horizon regarding interference in these markets or light-touch regulation. Those decisions will impact whether companies invest robustly, whether distributors of content will have the right incentives to continue innovation in that space, and many other issues. Watch the returns on Election Night – but also watch those critical appointments in regulatory agencies over the coming year to get a fuller flavor of the impact of government regulation on markets.

Check out Mehlman’s full piece at The Street.

Monday, September 19

Economists on BDS Competition


As the FCC continues its murky — and occasionally confounding — Business Data Services (BDS) process, seven economists have penned a letter to the Commission arguing that any imposed rate regulation on what is a truly competitive market would be a mistake and counterproductive. From said letter:

As commenters across the spectrum rightly acknowledge, the rationale for ex ante rate regulation hinges entirely on protecting customers from a dominant provider’s abuse of market power; in turn, there is no plausible argument for regulation BDS providers that lack market power. No party has suggested — let alone demonstrated — that competitive BDS providers exercise significant market power. Moreover, some of the undersigned economists have examined marketplace data regarding the current state of BDS competition and have found that such data do not support claims that incumbent LECs exercise market power broadly in the provision of BDS.

Translation: The BDS market is competitive and there is no need for across the board price regulation. Again, from the letter:

To the degree there are some BDS markets with persistent monopoly power, we agree that it could be economically justified and welfare enhancing to reduce monopoly rents in such markets to a best approximation of competitive levels, to the extent such a goal can be achieved without imposing large costs on providers and disincentivizing investment. The Commission should limit any such regulation to markets characterized by monopoly power that are unlikely to become effectively competitive in the near future. To that end, the Commission should regulate BDS rates for legacy services only in geographic BDS markets where only a single facilities-based provider is present or nearby.

Translation: If regulation is necessary, it should be implemented using a scalpel, not a hacksaw.

To read the full letter from the economists to the FCC, click here.

Monday, September 12

The Infrastructure of Virtual Reality

By Brad


Over at tech site Recode, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons and former Co-Chairman Larry Irving have penned an op-ed on virtual reality and the need for regulators to encourage private investment in the infrastructure that supports it. An excerpt:

The future of virtual reality is bright. Investors are bullish, users are excited to consume novel entertainment and educational applications, and engineers are developing new products. While innovators create exciting hardware and content, a VR future is only possible if policymakers make the right decisions today. Virtual reality will require new and upgraded broadband networks, both wired and wireless, that will be capable of satisfying future bandwidth needs of the technology, which consumes massive amounts of data.

Policymakers need to make more spectrum available, too. People are using their iPhones and Android phones for the early versions of VR, but today’s tools will not be adequate for a fully immersive, high-definition virtual reality future. Whether it is 4K, 5K, high-definition or ultra-high definition, each next-generation technology will require retrofitting our infrastructure. It’s time to rethink, rebuild and reinvest.

Check out at the full op-ed over at Recode.

Friday, August 26

40 Years of Smart Policy & the FCC’s About-Face


Tomorrow is the 40-year anniversary of the Internet Age. On August 27, 1976, scientists from SRI International successfully sent an electronic message from a computer set up at a picnic table at a Portola Valley, California biker bar, to SRI and on through the ARPANET network to Boston.

While the U.S. has seen nearly 40 years of pro-growth internet policy, the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, unfortunately, went from promoting internet investment and innovation through an open, multi-stakeholder platform to making the internet a government utility weighed down by Title II regulation. Check out the infographic below to see the FCC’s abrupt about-face.


Thursday, May 05

A Look at Broadband & the U.S. Economy


U.S. Broadband and ICT Sector Adds More than $1 Trillion in Annual Value for the American Economy under Light-Touch Regulation

Report authors Hassett and Shapiro argue that the broadband/ICT sector has grown dramatically under light regulation, and increased regulation could slow Internet ecosystem investment and impair other sectors that depend on broadband/ICT technologies

For the past decade, the broadband and information and communications technologies (ICT) sector has fueled enormous growth and development in the American economy, according to a new 20-page report from the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) that analyzes broad trends in the economic value, output, and employment in this key sector. The study concludes that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) effort to impose Title II regulation on broadband providers could “adversely affect broadband/ICT sector investment, with potentially significant secondary costs for the other industries that depend on it and the overall American economy,” the study states.

Authored by Kevin A. Hassett and Robert J. Shapiro, “The Impact of Broadband and Related Information and Communications Technologies on the American Economy” highlights how steady demand for the broadband/ICT sector’s goods and services has helped spur U.S. employment and GDP growth over the past decade. Principal findings of the research include:

• In 2014, the U.S. broadband/ICT sector produced $1,019.2 billion in value added for the American economy, equal to 5.9 percent of U.S. GDP of $17,420.7 billion in 2014. “This substantial share of all U.S. economic value added has been roughly stable for the past decade and likely understates the sector’s full contribution by undervaluing technological improvements,” the paper explains.

• The use of U.S. broadband/ICT goods and services by U.S. private industries, and the information sector (and government), contributed an additional $692.0 billion in output in 2014, equal to 2.7 percent of their combined output and 4.0 percent of GDP. Including the government sector, the use of U.S. broadband/ICT goods and services by other industries and sectors contributed $843.3 billion in output in 2014, equal to 2.9 percent of their combined output and 4.8 percent of GDP.

• The companies that comprise the broadband/ICT sector employed 4,933,000 workers (full-time equivalents or FTE) in 2014, or 4.2 percent of all U.S. private employment and 3.5 percent of all non-farm employment. Demand by the broadband/ICT sector for goods and services produced by other industries was responsible for an additional 2,784,683 jobs (FTE) in 2014. All told, the broadband/ICT sector was responsible for 7,717,683 jobs (FTE) in 2014, or 6.4 percent of all U.S. private employment and 5.5 percent of all non-farm employment.

• The average compensation of broadband/ICT sector workers in 2014 was $104,390, 59.3 percent greater than the average compensation earned by other U.S. workers ($65,517).

“The large economic gains associated with the broadband and ICT sector have flourished in an environment of light federal regulation,” commented Hassett and Shapiro. “The FCC’s proposed regulation of broadband ISPs and their service offerings would stifle broadband/ICT sector investment, growth and employment, negatively impacting the American economy.”

“Today, high-speed Internet is the backbone for 21st century economic growth in the digital economy,” said Rick Boucher, a former Democratic congressman who chaired the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet and now serves as honorary chairman of the IIA. “Unnecessary price regulation in competitive broadband markets will have far-reaching negative impacts on U.S. economic growth and development. Without ample investment in modern networks, consumers and the entire broadband ecosystem – from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to edge providers – will suffer from reduced innovation and fewer cutting edge broadband services, as well as reduced jobs and economic growth in the nation’s Internet economy.”


Tuesday, January 26

No Free Rides

By Bruce Mehlman


In 1973, the Edgar Winter Group scored a Top 20 hit with “Free Ride.” In 2016, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) are trying to score a free ride from the FCC via heavy regulation of special access rates.

While the CLECs like to claim there is a monopoly in the business broadband market, investment numbers say otherwise. Hundreds of billions are being invested in broadband networks, and all that money is not coming from CLECs. No wonder they want the FCC to impose heavy regulations on special access. The CLEC business model is to rely on the regulatory hammer to give them access to networks others have built, and as networks across the nation are upgraded to run on all-IP — and businesses require ever-faster broadband — the CLECs are quickly finding their business model is on thin ice — with spring around the corner.

Still, they continue to bend the FCC’s ear, which is why I continue to write about special access. It’s also why the organization US Telecom has launched a new initiative called “Innovate With Us” to remind policymakers that the broadband market in America is thriving across the board, and in order to keep the good times — and investment dollars — rolling, sensible regulations need to be in place. Or, as US Telecom succinctly put it in the intro to the initiative:

[T]he FCC should champion pro-investment policies that work for business customers, not specific companies, and look beyond yesterday’s technologies toward the networks of the future.

Check out what else the smart folks at US Telecom have to say about special access at the Innovate With Us website. You can also download and share a handy infographic they’ve put together on competition in the special access market and how regulators can continue encouraging private investment in networks.

Thursday, January 14

Asymmetric Regulations

By Bruce Mehlman


“Competition” is one of those words that make policymakers tingle. And yet, time and time again, private industry finds itself wrestling with regulations that not only harm competition but — in the most extreme cases — actively benefit one party over another.

Case in point: wireline broadband competition. Providers have invested billions to expand the reach and speed of their networks, and yet recent actions taken by the FCC are threatening to stifle ongoing investment. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out this latest study from the American Consumer Institute titled “Concentration by Regulation: How the FCC’s Imposition of Asymmetric Regulations Are Hindering Wireline Broadband Competition in America.”

Yes, that title is quite the mouthful (as most study titles are), and to be honest, unless you’re someone who enjoys diving into studies (with charts) on regulations, investment, and the economy, you might find the report’s 18 pages a bit of a slog. But those of us who do read through ACI’s study will find a convincing — and rather damning — case that the FCC is mistepping rather badly as it continues to amass more and more power over broadband. For example, here’s what the report has to say about one of the biggest regulatory marks the Commission made in 2015:

Title II regulations are preserving and maintaining duplicative and costly copper networks. That cost is an impediment to fiber deployment that keeps ILECs more reliant on older copper-based DSL technologies. Instead of the FCC relieving non-dominant ILECs of Title II regulations in more competitive markets, the FCC has recently chosen to make broadband service providers subject to Title II regulations.

Unless there is action soon, the shift in concentration is likely to be permanent. A decade ago, the rollback of asymmetric regulations permitted modest rebound in broadband services for ILECs, because there was brisk growth in subscribers. Today, because the broadband market is so widespread, growing slower and more mature, asymmetric broadband regulation will likely have longer term consequences that could permanently displace and weaken wireline competition. Even if a rebound is possible, ILECs will face a major cost to win back customers. Regulations are costly and delays in lifting these regulations will be even more costly.

Translation: Old regulations that effect some providers and not others are forcing companies like Verizon and AT&T to invest billions in the copper networks of old. Meanwhile, other providers don’t face such regulatory roadblocks, even as they aim to invest in the very same thing legacy providers are investing in — fiber-backed, high-speed broadband networks. Not exactly the spirit of competition, is it?

The ACI study isn’t all doom and gloom for America’s communications infrastructure, though, for the group has thoughtfully included a three bullet points that can help level the playing field:

• Policymakers need to end Title II regulations for all providers.
• There needs to be less emphasis on regulation of wholesale services. Less regulation will encourage more facility-based investments, which will lead to the natural development of a healthy, wholesale market; and
• If regulators truly believe that some regulation of wholesale services is necessary – and that may be the case in some rural markets – then regulators need to apply these regulations on a symmetrical and competitively neutral basis.

In short, get rid of the bad regulations, be careful when imposing new ones, and make sure everyone is playing under the same rules. Wise words, but the question is: Will the FCC listen?

Monday, January 04

Pew on Home Broadband

By Brad

Just before the holidays, Pew released a new report on home broadband adoption in 2015. The full report is available at Pew’s website, but here a few highlights from the findings:

• 67% of Americans have broadband at home, which is actually down from the 70% reported in 2013.

• 15% of Americans now describe themselves as “cord cutters,” relying on broadband for television rather than cable/satellite.

• 13% of Americans are smartphone-only, meaning they rely on a mobile device for Internet access.

One other finding from the Pew report, one that shows the value of encouraging investment in broadband networks: 69% of Americans believe not having broadband is a “major disadvantage.” That number is 13% higher than in 2010.

Thursday, November 05

Let’s Get Nerdy — Season 2, Episodes 5 and 6


In today’s installments, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman continues to focus on Special Access and regulations. Here he talks about what the U.S. can learn from a decade of empirical data collected by the European Union on wholesale access regulation.

Rounding out the discussion, Mehlman talks about the likely impacts of the FCC requiring that IP services replacing copper be offered to CLECs at wholesale rates.

Thursday, September 24

Problems with the FCC’s Pricing Rules

By Brad

Recently, our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman talked with Amir Nasr of the Morning Consult about the problems with the FCC’s pricing rules for high-grade network lines. An excerpt:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the rule “preserves competitive choices as the technology transitions move forward… Competitive providers rely on these inputs to serve hundreds of thousands of businesses and other enterprise customers at competitive rates, often offering customized services not offered by incumbents.”

Mehlman said some in the industry are frustrated at the FCC’s apparent shift in thinking after the agency left the matter alone for over a decade. “They promised no regulation for over 10 years, and now they’re proposing to fundamentally change the game,” he said.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican and outspoken adversary to the agency’s Democractic majority, decried the pricing proposal in a recent speech at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. “These regulatory roadblocks are bad for consumers, bad for infrastructure investment, and bad for our nation’s economic competitiveness,” he said.

Mehlman concurred. “As long as you have regulations on some providers, forcing them to help their competitors at regulated rates, you will have less investment because there is a meaningfully lower return,” he said.

Check out the full piece over at the Morning Consult.


Tuesday, July 14

Regulation and Delayed Investment


A recent Georgetown University Study by Kevin Hassett and Robert Shapiro confirms that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to subject Internet Service Providers (“ISPs) to “Title II” public utility regulation will “have significant adverse effects on future investment in the Internet.”

The study highlights how new regulation can have a “destructive, negative effect” if capital investment is delayed as a result of the need to resolve new market uncertainty. It notes how the history of FCC regulation of Internet companies has been surprisingly uniform and consistent. Whether under a Democratic or Republican Administration, the historical arc of broadband regulation gravitated toward a light-touch deregulatory approach that treated the Internet as an information service rather than a heavily-regulated telephone common carrier service.

Such treatment of broadband as an information service allowed the pace of Internet adoption to rapidly exceed that of the personal computer or dial-up Internet service. Technological advances and competition accelerated broadband uptake by lowering its “average, quality-adjusted price” that further accelerated its uptake. By contrast, studies have detailed how common carrier regulation inhibited competition for consumers and businesses, and discouraged and slowed innovation in telephone service.

Consumers now, however, bear the risks of the FCC’s decision to reverse course and impose new regulations on ISPs that today provide much of the Internet’s infrastructure and content. Such regulation could ultimately result in increased costs and price for Internet service beyond new universal service fees. Moreover, the Georgetown study notes how the regulatory path toward Title II may result in reduced efficiency of key network arrangements that depend on the Internet platform. Reduced efficiency could have the long-term negative effect of devaluing the investments made in those platforms or based on them and thus trigger many in the Internet ecosystem to minimize the costs of regulation rather than maximize efficient operations.

In addition, the study identifies scholarship that quantifies the negative potential impact of telecommunications regulation on broadband investment. For example, the ban on “paid priority” arrangements could affect telemedicine applications and cost the economy $100 million per year by 2019. More generally, Title II regulation of ISPs could reduce their “future wireline investments by between 17.8 percent and 31.7 percent per year, and their future total wireline and wireless investments by between 12.8 percent and 20.8 percent per year.”

The study’s authors also raise helpful international comparisons to better understand the imminent consequences of Title II regulation on broadband investment. Specifically, they note the “large negative effects on investment” if our nation’s regulatory model were moved closer to the heavy-handed regulations that governed Europe’s communications landscape in the first decade of the 21st century.

Finally, the Georgetown study’s most sobering point is how the “negative effects of uncertainty” resulting from the FCC’s sudden policy shift and on-going litigation may actually understate the harm of reduced broadband investment.

In light of this additional evidence and the potential harm to broadband and consumers, the Internet Innovation Alliance again emphasizes its support for a bipartisan legislative solution to promote an Open Internet without overly burdensome Title II Common Carrier Regulations for 21st Century broadband. 

Thursday, February 12

New IIA Report on Title II & Investment


This morning, we published a new report — authored by Fred B. Campbell, Jr. — on the effect Title II regulation on communications investment in Europe, and what it could mean for investment here in the United States. The full report is available here, and below is a recording of a teleconference call discussing the report.

Wednesday, December 10

Major Companies Warn About Impact of Title II

By Brad

In a letter to Members of Congress and the FCC, 60 companies — including IBM, Cisco, Intel, and others — have warned that reclassifying broadband under Title II will reduce investment and threaten the very health of the thriving Internet ecosystem. An excerpt:

Reversing course now by shifting to Title II means that instead of billions of broadband investment driving other sectors of the economy forward, any reduction in this spending will stifle growth across the entire economy.

This is not idle speculation or fear mongering. And as some have already warned, Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don’t know that you can recover on your investment, you won’t make it. One study estimates that capital investment by certain broadband providers could be between $28.1 and $45.4 billion lower than expected over the next five years if wireline broadband reclassification occurs. If even half of the ISPs decide to pull back investment to this degree, the impact on the tech equipment sector will be immediate and severe, and the impact would be even greater if wireless broadband is reclassified.

The investment shortfall would then flow downstream, landing first and squarely on technology companies like ours, and then working its way through the economy overall. Just a few years removed from the worst recession in memory, that’s a risk no policymaker should accept, let alone promote.

You can read the letter, submitted by the Telecommunications Industry Association, here.

Monday, December 01

Title II Would Cost Consumers

By Brad

As the FCC continues to mull its path toward ensuring net neutrality, none other than the Progressive Policy Institute has published new research highlighting just how much damage Title II reclassification could mean for consumers. An excerpt:

Self-styled consumer advocates are pressuring federal regulators to “reclassify” access to the Internet as a public utility. If they get their way, U.S. consumers will have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for both residential fixed and wireless broadband services.

How deep? We have calculated that the average annual increase in state and local fees levied on U.S. wireline and wireless broadband subscribers will be $67 and $72, respectively. And the annual increase in federal fees per household will be roughly $17. When you add it all up, reclassification could add a whopping $17 billion in new user fees on top of the planned $1.5 billion extra to fund the E-Rate program. The higher fees would come on top of the adverse impact on consumers of less investment and slower innovation that would result from reclassification.

We can all agree that the Internet must continue to be open, but as the Title II debate shows, not everyone seems to understand just what reclassifying Internet service would mean. Hopefully, research from the likes of the Progressive Policy Institute will help bring everyone up to speed. You can check out their full report here.

Wednesday, November 19

The Economic Reality of Title II

By Bruce Mehlman


“The Impact of Title II Regulation of Internet Providers On Their Capital Investments” is a 22-page study penned by economists Kevin A. Hassett and Robert J. Shapiro. It was submitted to the FCC as part of an ex part by the US Telecom Association. If you care about the future of the Internet, you need to add it to your reading list.

For the study, Hassett and Shapiro approached the question of Title II reclassification armed with numbers. Specifically, an alarming drop in projected private investment should the FCC choose to reclassify. As the economists write:

If the status quo continues, with data services unencumbered by Title II regulation, the several ISPs in our sample are expected to spend approximately $218.8 billion in new capital investments over the next five years in their wirelines and wireless networks. In contrast, under Title II regulation of all wireline data services, these ISPs’ wirelines and wireless capital investments over the next five years would drop an estimated range of $173.4 billion to $190.7 billion. Title II regulation of ISPs thus reduces these companies’ total investments by $28.1 billion to $45.4 billion (between 12.8 percent and 20.8 percent) over the next five years. Wireline investment by these firms would be 17.8 percent to 31.7 percent lower than expected.

That’s a lot of numbers with the word billion attached, but the main focus should really be on the percentages. You don’t have to be an economist to realize that a reduction of total investment dollars of 12.8 percent to 20.8 percent (and wireline investment dollars of 17.8 percent to 31.7 percent) would have a profound effect on America’s communications infrastructure. And by profound, I mean decidedly negative — not just for network expansion and upgrades, but for innovation across the Internet board.

The blow to innovation, Hassett and Shapiro argue, would be particularly hard on wireless networks. Again, from the study:

[T]he network managements practices which Title II regulation would potentially bar enable wireless investment and innovation, because wireless networks face serious capacity constraints. Thus, regulations that discourage or bar those practices raise the risk of introducing new products and applications: Without those practices, carriers would be less able to manage unpredictable changes in network demand associated with their introduction, and so maintain the quality of network services for all of its users.

In other words, the next big app or service could cripple wireless networks, and under Title II, providers would be hamstrung by regulations to solve the problem in a timely manner. Want to launch an innovative new streaming video app? Good luck gaining users when your app meets a road block of network congestion.

Too often the debate surrounding net neutrality is one of extremes, and I freely admit the above scenario falls within that category. But also too often, the economic realities of building, upgrading, and maintaining networks are either ignored or downplayed. Net neutrality doesn’t have to be an emotional issue; we all benefit from the Internet continuing to be open. The question is, how best do we ensure that happens while at the same time encouraging the investment necessary to keep networks growing. As Hassett and Shapiro’s study makes clear, the numbers show Title II would do more damage than good.

Tuesday, November 18

Irving on Encouraging Gigabit

By Brad

Speaking of op-eds, our Co-Chairman Larry Irving — who served on the Clinton Administration’s technology teams — also had a piece published today. In it, he argues heavy-handed regulations could stifle the next big thing in broadband — gigabit networks:

This week, President Obama asked the FCC to reclassify consumer-based Internet service as a Title II service under the 1934 Communications Act, essentially equating to heavy regulation of broadband. As the Federal Communications Commission weighs options during its Open Internet proceeding, the question remains whether today’s policy makers will be successful in maintaining a regulatory and investment climate that will promote continued investment in and innovation of new broadband networks.

My hope is that the public officials in charge of this stage of Internet growth approach their roles with as much regulatory humility as we did, aiming to steer, not row, and remembering what Secretary Brown understood: Innovation is not inevitable. The regulatory choices they make will propel or forestall innovation.

Read Irving’s full op-ed over at MarketWatch.

Tuesday, November 04

Why Investors Are Wary of Title II

By Bruce Mehlman


Many proponents of “net neutrality” routinely declare the Internet sky is falling. That if the government — specifically, the Federal Communications Commission — doesn’t take far greater control of the Internet, then the very platform itself will all but collapse.

Such scare tactics may rile up Americans, but ironically, it’s the very solution proponents are now pushing that could deal the most devastating blow to the free and open Internet.

Title II reclassification may seem simple — just make the Internet a public utility! — but as a new paper from Anna-Maria Kovacs shows, reclassification would have far greater consequences for the Internet than its supporters let on.

Kovacs’ paper, “Regulations in Financial Translation: Investment Implications of the FCC’s Open Internet Proceeding,” is a dense 27-page read, but don’t let the length — or the dry academic title — deter you from digging in. In the paper, Kovacs takes the temperature of communication investors as the FCC continues to mull over reclassification. And while the majority of investors don’t expect the Commission to use the “nuclear option” of Title II, as it’s commonly known, that doesn’t mean they’re breathing easy. As Kovacs writes (all emphasis mine):

From the perspective of investors, Title II reclassification makes no sense. It does not solve the problem of paid prioritization that the vast majority of net neutrality advocates are demanding the FCC solve, but it carries the risk of enormous collateral damage to both infrastructure and edge providers. It would bring stultifying regulation that would choke the Internet ecosystem that has become on of the primary engines of economic growth for the U.S. and the world. It would encourage other governments to follow suit, endangering the success of American digital service — and application-providers abroad.

This stultifying regulation, Kovacs rightly argues, would be especially brutal to mobile broadband investment, where America leads the rest of the world by leaps and bounds. Kovacs again:

U.S. mobile Internet traffic is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 50% per year between 2013 and 2018. Keeping up with that traffic will require ongoing capital investments as well as additional spectrum. During 2014-2015, mobile broadband Internet access providers (mobile BIAs) are expected to raise about $57 billion for spectrum purchases, as indicated by the FCC’s reserve price for the 2014 AWS-3 auction and the Greenhill report’s valuation of the broadcast spectrum the FCC hopes to sell in early 2016. That $57 billion is, of course, in addition to the $68 billion in capital investments that mobile BIAs will spend over those two years. Thus, for the FCC’s spectrum auctions to be successful, mobile BIAs will need to raise 84% more funding during 2014-2015 that they do in normal years. With increased price competition and a shrinking revenue base — something the wireline industry has endured for years but that is new to wireless — these companies are facing an increasingly skeptical investment community that will have little tolerance for regulatory shock, on either the fixed or mobile side.

That’s a whole lot of numbers (and acronyms) to digest, but boiled down it means a) Providers need more spectrum; b) Billions will need to be raised to purchase that spectrum; c) Investment dollars could easily dry up in the face of regulatory actions like reclassifying under Title II.

Kovacs goes on in the paper to make the case that the FCC has sufficient authority to ensure the Internet remains open under section 706, which makes it possible for the Commission to create rules specifically for this purpose. While those rules would still face judicial review, they would also keep the FCC (which, remember, is made up of appointed officials) from overreach. In contrast, Kovacs points out, Title II…

...automatically invokes price regulation, resale and interconnection obligations, customer privacy rules, and numerous other obligations, which have been implemented via many thousands of regulations at the FCC and various state commissions.

Thousands of government regulations. Does that sound like a free and open Internet?

But what about forbearance, the provision with mythical powers that Title II proponents point to as a counterpoint to the excessive regulations argument? Well, Kovacs makes plain why the idea of the FCC using forbearance powers doesn’t sit well with investors:

While the FCC is allowed to forbear from some of those obligations if it can justify the forbearance to the courts, investors who have watched the attempts of ILECs to obtain forbearance are all too aware of the difficulties of that process. For example, investors have watched ILECs lose most of their market share yet still be treated by the FCC and state commissioners as if they were dominant carriers for PSTN voice service. As a result, they have little faith that the FCC would apply Title II to BIAs but then forbear from all the regulations that come with that.

Look, when it comes down to it, we all want the Internet to remain open. It’s in the best interest of consumers and providers to keep it that way. But we also need to keep investment dollars flowing into our communications infrastructure. As Kovacs’ paper shows, Title II won’t really do either. Instead, it could have the complete opposite effect. Want the Internet sky to fall? Saddle it with regulations created when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office.

Friday, September 12

Investment Heroes

By Brad

The Progressive Policy Institute has released its annual list of “Investment Heroes,” and at the top of the list are AT&T and Verizon, with estimated capital expenditures of more than $20 billion and $15 billion, respectively. That’s a lot of investment dollars, but as Hal Singer warns in Forbes, current regulations being considered by the FCC could severely hurt that investment going forward:

This week, PPI released its third annual report on “U.S. Investment Heroes,”  authored by Diana Carew and Michael Mandel, which analyzes publicly available information to rank non-financial companies by their capital spending in the United States. Once again, AT&T and Verizon ranked first and second, respectively, with $21 and $15 billion in domestic investment in 2013. Comcast, Google, and Time Warner also made PPI’s top 25 list, each investing over $3 billion. The authors credit investment in the core of the network with sparking the rise of the “data-driven economy.”

In light of the results from prior experiments in rate regulation, the FCC should eschew calls to regulate ISPs under Title II. The incremental benefits (potentially barring fast lanes) are dubious, but the incremental costs (less investment at the core of the network) would be economically significant. Given its size and contribution to the U.S. economy in terms of jobs and productivity, even a small decline in core investment in response to rate regulation would impose social costs beyond the immediate harm to broadband consumers from an atrophying network.

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