Tales of the Sausage Factory

Google Is NOT Getting Into The Network Business, The Further Adventures of T. Googlii

Unsurprisingly, the telecom world is all abuzz over the news that Google will build a bunch of Gigabit test-beds. I am perfectly happy to see Google want to drop big bucks into fiber test beds. I expect this will have impact on the broadband market in lots of ways, and Google will learn a lot of cool things that will help it make lots of money at its core business — organizing information and selling that service in lots of different ways to people who value it for different reasons. But Google no more wants to be a wireline network operator than it wanted to be a wireless network operator back when it was willing to bid on C Block in the 700 MHz Auction.

So what does Google want? As I noted then: “Google does not want to be a network operator, but it wants to be a network architect.” Oh, it may end up running networks. Google has a history of stepping up to do things that further its core business when no one else wants to step up, as witnessed most recently by their submitting a bid to serve as the database manager for the broadcast white spaces devices. But what it actually wants to do is modify the behavior of the platforms on which it rides to better suit its needs. Happily, since those needs coincide with my needs, I don’t mind a bit.

How does that play out here, and why do I compare Google to a protozoa? See below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Benchmarks and the Broadband Ecology.

As folks in broadband policy land know, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the FCC needs to present a National Broadband Plan to Congress by February 2010. The FCC has been holdng a bunch of workshops on various aspects of the plan as part of the inputs. I spoke last week at the Benchmarks Workshop. As I remarked to the sparse crowd, you can tell this is the deep uber-wonk stuff that only a handful of us find terribly interesting and vitally important while the rest of the world zones out and watches videos in their minds. For the short version, I include my latest “Five Minutes With Harold Feld.” Those more interested can watch the entire panel or read my written statement here. My more snarky comments (including my assessment of the panel) below.

More below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory, The Stimulus Package (ARRA) | Also tagged , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Do Competitive Markets Keep Misbehaving? The Curious Case Of Cellular Txt Msging.

Been meaning to get to this for awhile now, which is why the links are so old.

It has long been an article of faith among the worshipers of the Gods of the Marketplace that once you achieve “competition” (generally described as at least one more possible new entrant, but certainly where multiple providers exist) you eliminate regulation, because a competitive marketplace gives consumers what they want — like high fuel efficiency standards and a secure financial system. Thus, for the 30 or so years, we have more and more framed the debate in telecom and media policy around whether or not we have “enough” competition rather than about the benefits or drawbacks of any actual policy. Unsurprisingly, you can always argue that we have “enough” competition (or that competition is about to emerge) and thus side step the whole question of the actual state of reality and what reality we might prefer.

Enter the curious case of cellular telephony. I’ll take the case of text messaging, although the same argument applies in varying degrees to other aspects of the wireless market like network attachments and ring tones. As Randall Stross wrote in the NY Times at the end of December, the cost charged to consumers for txt messaging has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the actual cost of the service. Yet — as we are constantly reminded — the cell phone market has four national players and numerous regional players. This makes it squindoodles more competitive than, say, the broadband market in most places in the country where you can generally get two somewhat comparable services (cable and DSL) and a whole bunch of also rans that folks like to claim are competition.

Text messaging is so overpriced compared to cost that last year Senator Herb Kohl, Chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, has sent a letter to AT&T, VZ, T-Mobile, and Sprint (more details here)asking ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello and what’s all this ‘ere, then? — you’re nicked!’ (no, I have no idea why Kohl sounds like a British Bobby from 50 years ago — ask him). As Kohl noted in his letter, the consistent ridiculously high prices for SMS txt messaging “is hardly consistent with the vigorous price competition we hope to see in a competitive marketplace.”

Short answer: it is utterly consistent with the nature of the wireless market. But — and here’s the shocker — real world markets are often much, much more complicated than the followers of the Gods of the Marketplace like to believe. Cell phone companies charge outrageous prices for text messaging (and other services like ring tones) not because they conspire with one another, or even because they engage in conscious parallelism. Nor do they do so because they must as a result of actual costs. They do so because — to use that classic phrase — it is what the market will bear, and the structure of the market ensures there is no benefit to any cellular carrier to offer text msging plans at anything approaching cost plus reasonable profit.

In economic terms, this is an oligopoly. Washington regulators treat oligopolies as if they were the same as competitive markets, unless one can show evidence of actual collusion — in which case it becomes a question of price fixing. But in reality, it doesn’t always work out that way. Even absent collusion, the ability of players to engage in strategic planing can negate the anticipated benefits of competition. Applying this framework to the CMRS market, and the question of the price of text messaging goes from suspicious riddle to entirely predictable. Whether you regard this as a reasonable outcome or not has nothing to do with “competition” or “market failure” and everything to do with whether we make a policy choice to care about it or not.

(Much) longer answer below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

Why Google May Still Bid

Journalists and industry analysts have been characterizing Tuesday’s FCC decision not to include a wholesale open access condition on the C block licenses as a defeat for Google which makes it very unlikely that Google will bid in the 700 MHz auction, obviating the best chance for emergence of a third broadband pipe to challenge the cablecos and telcos. This seems highly premature to me for several reasons.

Read More »

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Quick Update on Sessions Bill

My good buddies at Free Press have have created a page on the Sessions bill. As I mentioned last time, that’s the bill that would make it illegal for municipalities to provide new broadband, cable or telecom networks that compete with any private offerings.

As Free Press discovered, Mr. Sessions has about $500K in SBC stock options. Understandable that he might get upset if SBC had to _gasp_ compete for a living.

So take a minute to visit the Free Press site. Among other things, it has a simple way for you to tell your Congresscritter that you, unlike Mr. Sessions, would like to see competition in the broadband market.

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register