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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Slow Netflix? It’s not always your ISP’s fault

New Zealand may be a long way from New York, but a large number of residents of ‘Middle Earth’ are avid Netflix customers. In the last week of May, a large number of these customers started experiencing difficulties accessing Netflix. In the context of the current net neutrality debates in the US, it was inevitable that some immediately jumped to the (erroneous) conclusion that their ISPs were deliberately slowing down or blocking Netflix traffic for some strategic reason. Unsurprisingly, the local Geekzone blogosphere was immediately congested with angry Netflix customers complaining about the shoddy and discriminatory behavior their ISPs - and most especially, the ‘big guy’ Telecom who everybody loves to hate - were ‘clearly’ engaging in. And, of course, such behavior was only possible because of the dilatory stance of New Zealand legislators and regulators in failing to act on their demands for net neutrality laws!
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Is Australia’s government fiber initiative crowding out private investment?

Just when we thought the tales of the Australian government-funded nationwide fiber-to-the-home network could not get more incredible, news emerges that that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has been called upon to make a ruling on the legality of private sector firm TPG’s plan to provide fiber-to-the-basement services to high-rise apartment buildings in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Docklands.  Docklands does not yet feature on any National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout plans, and residents are apparently crying out for better broadband services. If this was the United States, then TPG’s plans would be manna from heaven, not cause for administrative inquiry.
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Navigating net neutrality analogies

In the net neutrality debate, commentators such as Susan Crawford have repeatedly called for a “public option for Internet access because Internet access is just like electricity or a road grid”. The argument typically goes along the lines that the Internet is simply a utility, like roads or electricity, so at the very least should be regulated in the same manner as these networks. Alternatively, in some utopian world, they should be owned and operated by governments – local, state or municipal – to ensure that they are operated in the ‘public good’. At some point, the issue of needing only one wire to every house is brought up as some sort of justification for this stance. They also argue that, because consumers have paid a (fixed – i.e. ‘all you can eat’) fee to connect to the network, they are entitled to the uninhibited right to consume as much content as they wish without either themselves or the providers of the content they consume being billed any further. But are the analogies really as simple and useful as these commentators imply? And if so, where would regulating ISPs in the manner of other networks take the industry?
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Protecting privacy and property rights in the cloud

In the wake of the Snowden leaks, much attention has been given to the extent to which it is possible for unauthorized individuals – including governments – to gain access to electronic information.  It is becoming increasingly clear that statutory privacy laws and website codes pay only lip service to their promises to protect individuals’ and firms’ information.  From the perspective of an economic contract, they are very difficult...

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The net neutrality debate: Why price discrimination can be good thing

Amongst all of the brouhaha circulating following the FCC’s net neutrality announcement, some of the most puzzling comments concern the purported  ‘evils of  price discrimination’ that will inevitably emerge if – heaven forbid – a network operator dares to charge one person a different price to move traffic over the internet than another person.   The mere fact that discrimination could occur is deemed sufficient cause by many...