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Powerful evidence US wireless market is world's most competitive

Kudos to Steve Pociask of the American Consumer Institute for another outstanding piece of analysis that debunks the notion that the US wireless market is not competitive and requires net neutrality/open access regulation.

The powerfully straightforward conclusions are:

  • The US has more choice and less concentration in wireless than Europe;
  • Americans use their wireless almost four times as much as Europe;
  • US wireless prices are the lowest in the world save for Hong Kong.

What's wrong with that picture?

Debunking more net neutrality revisionist history

Liberal blogger Matt Stoller of OpenLeft has a post at Save the Internet that lamely tries to rewrite "the history of net neutrality" in his commentary about his interview with FCC Commisioner Michael Copps.

FCC Chairman's welcome reiteration of opposition to net neutrality regulations

I wanted to commend and spotlight a critically important and completely under-reported/under-appreciated part of the FCC Chairman's statement on the 700 MHz auction released yesterday:

  • "We must continue to encourage the critical investment needed to build the next generation wireless network.  Since I have been Chairman, I have advocated strongly that applying network neutrality obligations, unbundling, or mandatory wholesale requirements to networks can undermine investment incentives.  I do not support such regulations.  The Order we adopt today does not apply these regulations to this block or any other block." [bold added for emphasis]

This is very important, welcome, commendable, and strong affirmation of the FCC's broad deregulation policy -- that was completely lost in the gaggle of press coverage.

New broadband uncertainty -- is 700 MHz info? or telecom service?

There are so many problems with the FCC's new 700 MHz auction rules that create a more regulated open access/net neutrality license -- its hard to know where to start.

  • Be confident that I will get to them all over time.

Yesterday I highlighted the dirty little secret that there is very substantial risk that this will become known as the "do over auction" because it may not raise enough money to satisfy the rules and because the FCC likely overstepped its legal authority and will be overturned  in court.

Let's raise another dirty little secret behind the new rules that will increase regulatory uncertainty for broadband deployment.

The FCC's "Do Over" Auction?

A much under-reported part of the high drama behind the FCC's current 700 MHz auction rules is that there is a very substantial risk that this becomes known as the "do over" FCC auction.

First, to any outside observer, the FCC's highly-tailored auction rules appear to have a pretty obvious "set aside" for the Google camp and its proposed net neutrality/open access business model for a third of the 700 MHz spectrum.

  • The FCC reportedly is "hedging its bets" on the Google set aside license -- worried that its policy experiment may fail to raise the revenue for the US Treasury that is estimated in the US Budget -- so it is imposing a "reserve price" -- in English, a price floor for this new set aside spectrum open license -- to supposedly guarantee the taxpayer 70% of what an "open" auction would deliver.
    • Some could characterize this FCC-signaled minimum acceptable price for the "Google-set-aside license" as a fixed 30% discount from the price paid at the AWS auction price. However, the real discount is much larger than 30% because the AWS spectrum is no where near as robust or valuable than the 700 MHz spectrum.
  • There are a lot of reasons that Google or others will not bid billions for open access spectrum.
    • First, it is likely not worth it.
      • It's an untested and unproven business model that offers little opportunity to earn a return on the roughly $10b it would take to build and operate such a national network.
      • Most professional and independent investors will ask the blunt and pointed question: how does the 700 MHz set-aside-licensee expect to make money building a highly-capital-intensive wireless-facility model that has dramatically less business and operating flexibility than the other seven existing broadband competitors that have many years head start, and when the cost of acquiring just one new customer could easily be in the $200-400 range on average?
      • What's wrong with that investment and business pitch?
        • It's a money pit.
        • It's dotcom bubble pixie dust.
        • It's a loser.
      • Net neutrality/open access, while cloaked in consumer terms, is basically an old-style industrial policy and corporate wealth transfer scheme from the risk-taking capital-intensive builders of wireless facilities to high-profit tech applications companies like Google, eBay and Amazon, companies who seek for consumers to pay for the bandwidth that they would profit the most from.
    • Second Google is not getting the wholesale resale and unbundling mandates they requested, so their highly-publicized offer to bid $4.6b is moot.
    • Third and most important, why would Google want to become a facilities-based, capital intensive wireless provider?
      • Such a move would change their business model and virtually none of Google's existing growth shareholders would want the dilution and huge capital and operating cost spikes required for Google to become a wireless carrier.
        • It's not going to happen.
        • Google's promise to bid will probably go down in FCC history as one of the best "head fakes" of all time.
    • In short, the FCC has chosen a new policy path that has substantial risk of not generating the revenue expected -- requiring a "do over" of the auction.

Second, there is substantial legal risk that the FCC does not have the authority to condition these licenses in a way that limits an "open" auction and substantially reduces the revenue for the US Treasury.

Jim Harper of Cato has a great piece on the 700MHz auction

Please read Jim Harper's (of Cato) cogent and on-point critique of the FCC's 700 MHz auction.

Well said Jim!

"Open" is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

And "open access" is just as impossible to define as its philosophical twin: "net neutrality."  

A "Third" national broadband pipe? Try an eighth!

I keep shaking my head in disbelief when the Google camp breathlessly claims that the 700 MHz is the last opportunity to create a true "third broadband pipe?"

  • This is a common trick in politics -- to completely ignore reality and facts, and create ones own "alternate reality," which suits one's political and corporate agenda.

The much ballyhooed proposal in the 700 MHz auction for an "open access license" (whatever that endlessly evolving term means) claims to be all about Government creating a "third broadband pipe?"

Hello???!!!

  • The marketplace is already delivering many more competitive broadband pipes now! FIVE of them -- way ahead of when this Google-camp experiment may deliver in several years time.

Let's come down to earth folks.

PrecursorBlog was "Blocked" by another denial of service attack

The Precursorblog was shut down for most of today because we were hit by yet another targeted and malicious denial-of-service attack.

It appears that some net neutrality zealots may "say" they oppose any "blocking, degrading or impairing" of access to any Internet content -- but I guess that only applies to people who agree with them.

Last time this happened, I appealed to Moveon.org's, SaveTheInternet and FreePress to denounce this attack on free speech, but alas, they said nothing.

The Department of Justice on "bid rigging"

Given the issue of whether or not the 700 Mhz auction is being run for the benefit of the American taxpayer, there is a very interesting quote from a Justice Department official today on their view of "bid rigging" in a competitive government auction, in this case concerning a defense contractor.

  • "The antitrust division is committed to protecting the competitive market for Americans," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett, who heads the department's antitrust division. "We will continue to bring to justice those who rig bids and thereby deprive the public of the benefits afforded by a competitive bidding process."

It is interesting to juxtapose this Justice Department quote of today with another quote from today in the Dow Jones article on the 700 MHz auction, which quoted the position of Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge on "bid rigging":

  • She acknowledged that effectively Google and public interest groups were asking the FCC to "rig the auction" to facilitate a third national broadband competitor to the incumbents - AT&T Inc. (T), Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and the cable companies.

The ends don’t justify the means.

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Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths