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.

Netflix rewrites net neutrality politics, but not CDN business strategy

Down under, the content distribution market has heated up following the announcement that Netflix will launch a local version of its service in Australia and New Zealand on March 24. Advocates of New Zealand’s government-subsidized Ultra-Fast Broadband Network have welcomed the arrival of the US giant, who they perceive to be a “killer app” that will bolster sluggish fiber connection uptake rates (which are currently languishing at 12%). In Australia, the CEO of ISP iiNet sees it as a game-changer: “it opens up a whole world of affordable entertainment options for our customers and we’re adamant about ensuring the content is easily accessible to as many people as possible. In addition to our partnership with Fetch TV, Netflix significantly strengthens our entertainment offering and we expect it to be an extremely popular option for all those avid television and movie fans out there.”
EmptyPockets by Shutterstock.com

Municipal broadband warning: Costs exceed projections in Australia. Again.

Municipal broadband projects are in the spotlight following President Obama’s endorsement of them and the FCC’s decision to relax rules limiting the extent to which taxpayer-subsidized networks may compete with those funded by the private sector. While there is a case for subsidized networks where no provider is willing invest, it is far from clear that governments – be they national, state or municipal – are well-placed to commission and oversee network rollouts. Without the normal commercial pressures to make a return on invested capital, such projects can lead to “gold-plated” investment in infrastructure that vastly exceeds end-user demand. Absence of competition also leads to such operations being less efficient. This is exactly what has happened in Australia, and it has placed a significant cost burden on the very taxpayers whom the network was supposed to benefit.

The perils of Title II regulation in one graph

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. Consider the graph above, which is taken from a report I wrote in 2007. In the 1990s, when New Zealand’s telephony markets were governed predominantly by competition law, fierce infrastructure competition translated into substantial gains to consumers in the form of lower prices for better services. However, when key telephony services shifted to an industry-specific regime in 2000 – arguably the lightest in the OECD at the time – these consumer benefits bottomed out. A vibrant, diverse industry with experimentation in both prices and services rapidly became moribund, depriving consumers of the welfare gains they enjoyed under a more liberal regime.
Broadband by Shutterstock

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.
ZeroRating by Shutterstock

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.