Satellite Carrier Subsidies Are Unwarranted

DISH Network gets another opportunity on Tuesday to plead with Congress for another Satellite Home Viewer Act reauthorization–ostensibly to protect consumers from unwarranted rate increases and program blackouts, but actually to preserve and expand DISH Network’s and DirecTV’s access to broadcast programming at regulated, below-market rates. A couple minor provisions in the Act that have nearly outlived their original purpose are due to expire, but DISH Network is taking advantage of this opportunity to argue that “there is much more that Congress can do to expand consumers’ access to local programming…” DISH’s plea is an example of the narcotic effect of supposedly benign regulation intended to promote competition by giving nascent competitors a leg up. DISH Network, in particular, has Read More ›

FCC Risks Getting Sidetracked on Spectrum Auctions

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will conduct an oversight hearing of the implementation of spectrum auctions by the Federal Communications Commission. The subcommittee members ought to consider the fact that although the mobile wireless industry faces an acute shortage of spectrum (“broadband spectrum deficit is likely to approach 300 MHz by 2014“), the FCC risks getting distracted and mired in a pointless effort to leverage its spectrum auctioning authority to manipulate the structure of the mobile wireless industry. In mid-2011, former Commissioner Michael J. Copps warned of “darkening clouds over the state of mobile competition … we find ongoing trends of industry consolidation.” As Copps saw it, increasing concentration will lead to higher prices for consumers. His Read More ›

Network access regulation 4.0

More this week on the efforts of Reed Hastings of Netflix to reignite the perennial debate over network access regulation, courtesy of the New York Times. Hastings is seeking a free ride on Comcast’s multi-billion-dollar investment in broadband Internet access.
Times columnist Eduardo Porter apparently believes that he has seen the future and thinks it works: The French government forced France T�l�com to lease capacity on its wires to rivals for a regulated price, he reports, and now competitor Iliad offers packages that include free international calls to 70 countries and a download speed of 100 megabits per second for less than $40.
It should be noted at the outset that the percentage of French households with broadband in 2009 (57%) was less than the percentage of U.S. households (63%) according to statistics cited by the Federal Communications Commission.
There is a much stronger argument for unbundling in France – which lacks a fully-developed cable TV industry – than in the U.S. As the Berkman Center paper to which Porter’s column links notes on pages 266-68, DSL subscriptions – most of which ride France T�l�com’s network – make up 95% of all broadband connections in France. Cable constitutes approximately only 5% of the overall broadband market. Competition among DSL providers has produced lower prices for consumers, but at the expense of private investment in fiber networks.

Read More ›

FCC strikes out on AT&T + T-Mobile opportunity

AT&T and T-Mobile withdrew their merger application from the Federal Communications Commission Nov. 29 after it became clear that rigid ideologues at the FCC with no idea how to promote economic growth were determined to create as much trouble as possible. The companies will continue to battle the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of their deal. They can contend with the FCC later, perhaps after the next election. The conflict with DOJ will take place in a court of law, where usually there is scrupulous regard for facts, law and procedure. By comparison, the FCC is a playground for politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists that tends to do whatever it wants. In an unusual move, the agency released an analysis Read More ›

Comcast + NBC = Blackmail

A Sunday editorial in the New York Times expressed concerns about Comcast’s proposed acquisition of NBC, but explicitly stopped short of calling for rejection of the deal.
According to the Times, this combination could be just awful

Comcast could bar rival cable and satellite TV companies from access to desirable NBC shows, or it could offer them only at a high price, bundled with less attractive content …. Comcast could now be tempted to limit access to NBC content on rival Internet services, or charge them high fees. And Comcast could take its bundling business model to the Internet by forcing customers to buy cable packages in order to see content from NBC’s network online.

After citing these horrific possibilities, the Times then says,

These concerns might not justify blocking a merger. But they do justify a careful review …. What regulators must not do is let this deal pass unchallenged.

What? If it’s so bad, shouldn’t we call 911?
Well, if the deal is rejected or withdrawn, various special interests get nothing.

Read More ›

Verizon Wireless-Google partnership could trigger lawyerfest

Verizon Wireless and Google plan to co-develop several devices based on the Android system that will be preloaded with their own applications — plus others from third parties, a possible contender to Apple’s huge iPhone application store. They will market and distribute products and services, with Verizon also contributing its nationwide distribution channels. If the network neutrality mandates in the Markey-Eshoo bill were to become law, I don’t see how VZW and GOOG could preload applications, if the applications favor certain content on the Internet when they are used. That would seem to violate the “duty” of Internet access service providers to not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet Read More ›

Good enough is great

Wired has a good article by Robert Capps, “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.“ Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher. So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. Read More ›

Legacy regulation killed Google Voice

Reacting to Apple’s decision to not allow Google Voice for the iPhone, Wall Street Journal guest columnist Andy Kessler complains, It wouldn’t be so bad if we were just overpaying for our mobile plans. Americans are used to that–see mail, milk and medicine. But it’s inexcusable that new, feature-rich and productive applications like Google Voice are being held back, just to prop up AT&T while we wait for it to transition away from its legacy of voice communications. How many productive apps beyond Google Voice are waiting in the wings? So Kessler proposes a “national data plan.” Before we get to that, Kessler complains that margins in AT&T’s cellphone unit are an “embarrassingly” high 25%. He doesn’t point out that Read More ›

Telecoms face antitrust scrutiny

The Department of Justice is looking into whether large U.S. telecommunications companies such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are abusing the market power they have amassed in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal. One area that might be explored is whether big wireless carriers are hurting smaller rivals by locking up popular phones through exclusive agreements with handset makers. Lawmakers and regulators have raised questions about deals such as AT&T’s exclusive right to provide service for Apple Inc.’s iPhone in the U.S. The department also may review whether telecom carriers are unduly restricting the types of services other companies can offer on their networks, one person familiar with the situation said. Public-interest groups have complained when Read More ›

‘Special access’ shouldn’t be fixed

George S. Ford and Lawrence J. Spiwak at the Phoenix Center conclude in a new paper that government intervention is not warranted in the market for special access services purchased by businesses and institutions (which I discussed most recently here). They note that the rates of return a prominent study estimated AT&T, Qwest and Verizon are currently earning either are similar to or less than the rates of return these companies used to earn when the market was fully regulated. NRRI bases this analysis on ARMIS rates of return, a perplexing approach once one calculates ARMIS rates of return from the period in which all special access services were price regulated. In 1999, for example, the average rate of return Read More ›