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.
SharingEconomy by Shutterstock

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?
YouTube by Shutterstock

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.
GlobalInternet by Shutterstock

President Obama: Don’t mess with “our” Internet!

A veritable storm of debate has erupted in the US in the wake of President Obama’s November 10 announcement urging the FCC to regulate broadband as a public utility under Title II. For those of you in the United States, this may seem to be simply a matter of domestic politics. However, I want to put in a plea from those of us in other parts of the world, because, as it turns out, messing with US regulation messes with the digital ecosystem of countries where broadband Internet is already regulated as a public utility. As has been noted in many of the reactions to the President’s announcement, the Internet as we experience it today came about thanks to the "light touch" regulatory approach of the Clinton-Gore administration. This approach has stimulated waves of investment and innovation in US industry, the likes of which quite simply have not been evidenced in those parts of the world where heavy-handed and prescriptive regulatory provisions have chilled both activities.
AustraliasBroadband by Shutterstock

Mandated firm structure threatens Australia’s broadband market

Few people would disagree with the notion that the digital economy is driven by innovation. This notion pertains as much to innovations in industrial organization as it does to the creation of new value for consumers. Think of the huge benefits brought about by the implementation of just-in-time inventory management a few decades ago, when it became clear that better information and lower transportation costs enabled firms such as Dell to reduce their on-site inventories and make more efficient use of scarce physical and human capital. And, more recently, the introduction of self-service checkouts at busy supermarkets has given consumers the option of scanning and packing their own goods or waiting in line for a checkout operator to do it for them. Clearly, if these new institutional arrangements are to be discovered and developed, then firms need the freedom to try new ways of doing old things – to slice and dice the various components of their activities in different ways, bringing some in-house, outsourcing others, and generally rearranging the order in which they do things.
AustraliaInfrastructureCompetition by Shutterstock

Pride, prejudice and precluding infrastructure competition for government-owned networks

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a telco in possession of market power will seek to use its position to foreclose competition. This is true regardless of whether the telco is privately or publicly owned. Recent events in Australia confirm that governments, when conflicted by their joint roles as network owners and custodians of regulatory policy and legislation, are prepared to sacrifice the benefits of competition in order to pursue redistributive agendas. This is true even if such agendas are more costly for consumers and taxpayers in the long run than doing nothing at all. One of the fundamental justifications for radical 1980s reforms of state-owned telecommunications firms and their regulatory environments worldwide was the elimination of government monopolies, which were not in line with the long-term interests of consumers. The long-held principles of infrastructure competition and ownership separation are prominent in the review of Australia's broadband market structure and regulatory framework, released on October 1st.