Friday, February 28, 2014

Policy debate -- not market competition -- predominates in U.S. premises Internet infrastructure

In the United States, the major competition in last mile wired premise Internet infrastructure is playing out in the public policy arena more than in the marketplace. In order to have market competition, there has to be a market. In many areas, there isn’t one. Those looking to purchase wired premise Internet service cannot do so because no providers want to sell it to them. The basic definition of a functional market is willing buyers and willing sellers. Others want better value service and more options. Here again, the market fails. No providers are willing to make the necessary investment in order to sell better value services to them – the impetus behind many municipal Internet infrastructure projects.
Second, telecommunications infrastructure due to its high construction and operating costs excludes many potential providers. It’s what known as a natural monopoly or at best, a duopoly. Roads and highways are tremendously expensive and thus tend to be operated by one provider that can bear the large cost burden: the government. In a limited number of cases, a duopoly exists where motorists have the option of taking the public highway or a private toll road. By definition, there cannot be a competitive market, which is one made up of many sellers and many buyers.

Which brings us to the major ideological battleground over last mile wired premise Internet service: Whether it should be operated like a closed, private toll road or an open access public thoroughfare. Big money has joined the fight to bolster the latter position. Macquarie Capital Group, an Australian firm that invests in multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects around the world, is considering investing in UTOPIA, an open access fiber to the premise (FTTP) network serving 11 Utah municipalities. (See item here).

On the other side of the debate are the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies that want to preserve their closed network models. As Community Broadband Networks reports, they are sponsoring bills in both chambers of the Utah legislature opponents say are intended to scotch a potential Macquarie investment in UTOPIA. In Kansas, the cable company lobby is seeking legislation that would add Kansas to the roster of 20 states that bar local governments from building Internet infrastructure projects to serve their citizenry.

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