Bronwyn Howell

Bronwyn Howell

Bronwyn Howell is general manager for the New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation and a faculty member of Victoria Business School, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She is a board member and secretary to the board of the International Telecommunications Society. She was formerly visiting research scientist at the Helsinki University of Technology. Building on both her formal education in economics and public policy, and her experience as a practitioner in the information technology sector in New Zealand and internationally, Bronwyn researches, teaches and writes on a broad range of matters concerning the Information Economy. Her publication portfolio includes journal articles, book chapters, monographs, working papers and presentations on technological diffusion, intellectual property rights and the contracting for and pricing of information goods. In recent years she has focused on competition and regulatory policy, and the evolution of industry interaction in the telecommunications and information communications technology markets. An area of particular interest has been the comparative effects of different forms of competition and regulation on market performance, especially in small, remote economies such as New Zealand.
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Municipal broadband: Maximizing the public good or funding a fiber arms race?

Last week, the White House announced plans to hold a summit for mayors and county commissioners from around the nation focused on expanding local government-owned broadband networks, which are perceived to be a panacea for providing United States consumers with competition and better, faster, cheaper broadband. The poster children for these claims are municipal and other locally owned networks in Cedar Falls, Iowa; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri and Lafayette, Louisiana, where residential consumers have access to speeds up to 1Gbps. The president has claimed such investments will give communities “a huge competitive advantage. It means a business can come in and locate there knowing that they can hook into world markets, products, services, anywhere around the globe." The president’s pronouncements have also been linked to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s indication last year that he believes “it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband." These claims are made despite the fact, for example, that only a handful of Chattanooga businesses actually subscribe to 1Gbps connections, with conservative estimates suggesting that the often-touted new jobs created in the process have cost over $112,000 each.
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Would a ban on zero rating throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Harvard's Susan Crawford has sounded the alarm on zero-rated data, calling the practice “pernicious,” “dangerous” and “malignant.” However, calls to ban an activity such as zero rating must be treated carefully, since it is rare that a banned activity is unequivocally harmful. Zero rating has been demonstrated under some circumstances to both enhance competition and benefit consumers. Therefore, zero rating is an imperfect proxy for the harm Crawford perceives. By pursuing such a proxy, Crawford’s proposition threatens to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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The NBN is dead… Long live the NBN (but not infrastructure competition?)

December 14 was a major milestone for anyone who cares about broadband in Australia or about government-owned Internet infrastructure in general. On this day, Australian Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, NBN Co. CEO Bill Morrow, and Telstra CEO David Thodey signed an agreement that unequivocally marks the end of the former Labor government’s dream of a fully government-funded, 100 Mbps fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) national network. The agreement states that copper and cable providers Telstra and Optus will transfer ownership of their networks to NBN Co., who will use the existing DOCSIS 3-enabled cable assets and vectored VDSL as a stepping stone to full fiber deployment. This is in contrast to the original Labor government’s pie-in-the-sky dream of deploying 100 Mbps fiber everywhere, and then paying other providers to decommission their networks.
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The sharing economy may not be as disruptive as you think

When they first hit the market, apps such as Uber and Airbnb were heralded as poster-children for the “sharing economy.” In the wake of the 2007-09 financial crisis and the subsequent housing crash, they have been lauded for the way in which they have enabled individuals to “reconnect through peer-to-peer marketplaces that turn underutilized assets and resources into new jobs, income streams and community networks.” Many also claim they are based on revolutionary new business models that will fundamentally change the transportation and accommodation industries, in the same way that digital distribution altered the economics of the music industry. But could it be that these pioneers of the sharing economy will simply end up adapting to the traditional industries they are claiming to disrupt?
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Are YouTube’s ISP incentives “net-neutral”? And who cares?

Last week, YouTube’s head of mobile partnerships, Erik Mauskopf, announced at the Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Shanghai that since the beginning of 2014, the firm has been “working closely with ISPs, helping them communicate the value of higher-speed connections.” The relationship involves an incentive system where YouTube rewards “ISPs that have products that are able to deliver HD…YouTube experience by meeting certain throughput guidance.” ISPs are said to be very supportive of the incentive system, whereby they receive payments from YouTube that offset the costs of marketing high-speed connections to their customers. However, YouTube’s partnership with ISP raises some important questions for net neutrality advocates. On the one hand, YouTube is providing funds to ISPs to prioritize marketing of the connections that give end users the optimum video experience. The firm is not paying ISPs to prioritize its traffic over any other traffic, so it does not breach the technical aspects of net neutrality proponents’ proposed regulations. Any traffic supplied to an end user purchasing faster connections will be treated identically whether it comes from YouTube, Netflix, or even the ISP’s own email servers.