Sunday, March 12, 2017

West Virginia telecom infrastructure initiative embodies 3 fatal public policy flaws

Charleston Gazette-Mail | Groups push for broadband expansion in WV: Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Tuesday that at least two broadband-related bills are in the works, and lawmakers expect to introduce legislation in the coming days. The Senate bill would offer tax credits for companies to help recoup costs of bringing internet to remote areas, said Carmichael, an executive with internet provider Frontier Communications. The bill also may authorize the state to provide loan guarantees to internet firms that plan to expand broadband service. Carmichael said some internet providers want legislation designed to bring internet service to households that don’t currently have it, while other companies support measures that would increase internet speeds.

“We want to [encourage] competition,” Carmichael said. “If we’re going to do investment of any type, it should go to the areas that have no service.” Generation West Virginia, AARP West Virginia and the state Broadband Enhancement Council held a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday to raise awareness about the importance of high-speed internet service and to unveil a plan — called Gig Ready — to bolster support for broadband expansion.

This West Virginia effort although well intended contains three fatal flaws that are unfortunately frequently embraced by other states and by federal policymakers.
  1. Offering loan guarantees and tax credits to legacy telephone and cable companies to invest in advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the belief that will help achieve universal service. It will not. The incumbents' short term business models are designed to extract maximum cash flow from current assets and do not allow them to make significant long term capital investments in new infrastructure. Tax credits and loan guarantees can't overcome that hard economic reality.
  2. The belief that the role of government vis telecommunications infrastructure is to promote market competition. Telecom infrastructure is a natural monopoly and can and never will be a competitive market. Promoting market competition in telecom infrastructure is like promoting water skiing in the arctic.
  3. Sloganeering. Call it Game of Gigs or Gig Ready, slogans can't construct telecom infrastructure. They are not so much aspirations for the future but rather reflect a poverty of action and commitment (harder) relative to a surplus of talk (far easier).

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