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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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.
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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.
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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.
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Is outcry over government surveillance all bark and no bite?

In the wake of the WikiLeaks (Julian Assange) and PRISM (Edward Snowden) revelations, much has been said and written about the extent to which state-sanctioned surveillance of citizens’ data communications – not to mention the communications of non-citizens – is occurring. With all of this clamor it might seem reasonable to expect voters to express their indignation at the polling places. However, this month’s general elections in New Zealand may suggest that the public is not prepared to make government surveillance a top priority. To be clear, some of the public’s commentary on the implications of government surveillance is thoughtful and reasoned, such as the contributions of TechPolicyDaily contributor Claude Barfield. But much is a cacophony, using the latest ‘scandals’ to score points in perennial political battles. Amongst the political sound and fury generated on the issue are warnings that such activities threaten to undermine democracy itself. A recent example is the call by 500 leading authors – including five Nobel Prize winners – for an international charter to curb the activities of national spy agencies.
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Counting the costs and benefits of government fiber beneficence

When Australia’s $40 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) plan to build a government-funded Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network reaching 93% of Australian residences was announced in 2008, it represented the single biggest infrastructure investment in the nation’s history. By way of comparison, its $40 billion budget exceeded estimates for the contemporaneously-approved Gorgon Gas project, which when completed will be one of the world’s largest natural gas field developments.

For the Gorgon project, both shareholder investment...