Hal Singer has discovered that total wireline broadband investment has declined 12% in the first half of 2015 compared to the first half of 2014. The net decrease was $3.3 billion across the six largest ISPs. As far as what could have caused this, the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order “is the best explanation for the capex meltdown,” Singer writes.
Despite numerous warnings from economists and other experts, the FCC confidently predicted in paragraph 40 of the Open Internet Order that “recent events have demonstrated that our rules will not disrupt capital markets or investment.”
Chairman Wheeler acknowledged that diminished investment in the network is unacceptable when the commission adopted the Open Internet Order by a partisan 3-2 vote. His statement said:
Our challenge is to achieve two equally important goals: ensure incentives for private investment in broadband infrastructure so the U.S. has world-leading networks and ensure that those networks are fast, fair, and open for all Americans. (emphasis added.)
The Open Internet Order achieves the first goal, he claimed, by “providing certainty for broadband providers and the online marketplace.” (emphasis added.)
Yet by asserting jurisdiction over interconnection for the first time and by adding a vague new catchall “general conduct” rule, the Order is a recipe for uncertainty. When asked at a February press conference to provide some examples of how the general conduct rule might be used to stop “new and novel threats” to the Internet, Wheeler admitted “we don’t really know…we don’t know where things go next…” This is not certainty.
As Singer points out, the FCC has speculated that the Open Internet rules would generate only $100 million in annual benefits for content providers compared to the reduction of investment in the network of at least $3.3 billion since last year. While the rules obviously won’t survive cost-benefit analysis, I’m not sure they will survive some preliminary questions and even get to a cost-benefit analysis stage.