Thursday, September 08, 2016

Universally available advanced telecom infrastructure requires public ownership

EU seeks to spur fast broadband roll-out with telecoms reform | Reuters: The costs of running optic fiber - which can deliver speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second - into households are high. Telecoms operators such as Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telecom Italia have long complained that the current rules forcing them to open up their networks to competitors at regulated prices do not allow them get a decent return on investment.

Unbundling of Networks Elements (UNE) is a key part of the 1996 amendment of the U.S. Communications Act. The thinking was this would hasten the availability of advanced communications services by spurring competition among service providers. The problem however is those advanced services require infrastructure upgrades and fiber to the premise -- upgrades the vertically integrated incumbent telephone companies are loath to make since they would have to share them with other service providers offering competing services. Meanwhile, 20 years after the enactment of the amendment, the United States suffers from widespread infrastructure access disparaties, with some premises still only offered the same dialup service that was available in 1996.

That's not to imply that the EU's approach is the right one since it like U.S. policy is overly reliant on competitive market forces that have limited effect in telecommunications infrastructure owned by vertically integrated, investor-owed players that want to protect their natural monopolies and cherry pick and redline down to the neighborhood level. Achieving universal advanced telecommunications service thus requires public ownership of the infrastructure.

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