“The Impact of Title II Regulation of Internet Providers On Their Capital Investments” is a 22-page study penned by economists Kevin A. Hassett and Robert J. Shapiro. It was submitted to the FCC as part of an ex part by the US Telecom Association. If you care about the future of the Internet, you need to add it to your reading list.
For the study, Hassett and Shapiro approached the question of Title II reclassification armed with numbers. Specifically, an alarming drop in projected private investment should the FCC choose to reclassify. As the economists write:
If the status quo continues, with data services unencumbered by Title II regulation, the several ISPs in our sample are expected to spend approximately $218.8 billion in new capital investments over the next five years in their wirelines and wireless networks. In contrast, under Title II regulation of all wireline data services, these ISPs’ wirelines and wireless capital investments over the next five years would drop an estimated range of $173.4 billion to $190.7 billion. Title II regulation of ISPs thus reduces these companies’ total investments by $28.1 billion to $45.4 billion (between 12.8 percent and 20.8 percent) over the next five years. Wireline investment by these firms would be 17.8 percent to 31.7 percent lower than expected.
That’s a lot of numbers with the word billion attached, but the main focus should really be on the percentages. You don’t have to be an economist to realize that a reduction of total investment dollars of 12.8 percent to 20.8 percent (and wireline investment dollars of 17.8 percent to 31.7 percent) would have a profound effect on America’s communications infrastructure. And by profound, I mean decidedly negative — not just for network expansion and upgrades, but for innovation across the Internet board.
The blow to innovation, Hassett and Shapiro argue, would be particularly hard on wireless networks. Again, from the study:
[T]he network managements practices which Title II regulation would potentially bar enable wireless investment and innovation, because wireless networks face serious capacity constraints. Thus, regulations that discourage or bar those practices raise the risk of introducing new products and applications: Without those practices, carriers would be less able to manage unpredictable changes in network demand associated with their introduction, and so maintain the quality of network services for all of its users.
In other words, the next big app or service could cripple wireless networks, and under Title II, providers would be hamstrung by regulations to solve the problem in a timely manner. Want to launch an innovative new streaming video app? Good luck gaining users when your app meets a road block of network congestion.
Too often the debate surrounding net neutrality is one of extremes, and I freely admit the above scenario falls within that category. But also too often, the economic realities of building, upgrading, and maintaining networks are either ignored or downplayed. Net neutrality doesn’t have to be an emotional issue; we all benefit from the Internet continuing to be open. The question is, how best do we ensure that happens while at the same time encouraging the investment necessary to keep networks growing. As Hassett and Shapiro’s study makes clear, the numbers show Title II would do more damage than good.