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Re: ISP's In Uproar Over Verizon-MCI Merger

  • From: Steve Gibbard
  • Date: Fri Aug 26 01:15:25 2005

On Thu, 25 Aug 2005, Lewis Butler wrote:

And what does every country ahead of the US have in common? Tiny populations.

And what does every country but one have in common? Very small area. The US has states that are larger than 10 of the 11 countries ahead of use, COMBINED.
I didn't say anything about population density. I said the countries are all very very small (in terms of area) with the exception of Canada, but even with Canada something like 90% of the population lives within 150 miles (or is it 200? 200 seems more reasonable, but 150 sticks in my mind) of the US border or something silly like that. The fact is it is easier for a country like South Korea or The Netherlands to string fiber all over the entire country because they don't need to lay a few millions of miles of fiber to do so. And even with Canada, the population is mostly in a relatively narrow band along the US border. How much broadband penetration is there in the Yukon, for example? Echo Lake?
I suspect getting hung up on the relevance of population statistics misses the point. We know that population density makes a difference to the level of infrastructure development. To take some extreme US cases, there's a lot more infrastructure in San Francisco, Manhattan, or the Chicago Loop than in unpopulated areas of the middle of the US. If you wanted to do a country by country comparison, you'd probably be better off looking at similar parts of the countries being compared than those countries as a whole.

There are also lots of economic factors aside from population density that influence infrastructure development. If population density were all it took to get infrastructure built, the US would be getting thoroughly trounced by some of the poorest areas of the world.

So, if you're trying to make an argument for or against some specific changes to the regulatory structure of the US telecommunications industry, the thing to do would be to find similar places with different regulatory structures, and look at what effects the specific regulatory structures are having.

Or, it might even be valid to look at how telecommunications advanced in previous eras, in the same places. You might look at the levels of innovation in the American telecom industry during the 45 or so years before the 1996 telecommunications act and the nine years after that. You might find that the most significant changes in how people used telephones between direct dialed long distance in the 1950s(?) and the advent of line sharing and forced interconnections with competitors in 1996 were touch tone and call waiting, but that they gave us relatively cheap DSL and too cheap to meter domestic long distance when forced into it to keep from being left behind by those who were sharing their lines. And this might, I suppose, fill you with regret when you ponder what the companies that brought you touch tone and call waiting might have been able to produce, had they not had to expend their resources on frivolous projects like DSL.

Is the US being left behind by Korea in ways that aren't simply a matter of population density? Maybe. Would some regulatory changes in the US being to reduce that? Maybe. Would going back to a regulatory structure that looks like what the US had before 1996 achieve that result? I suppose that depends largely on how our remonopolized telcos would behave once they no longer had to worry about competitors. Would they welcome it as an opportunity to innovate, or get lazy because it no longer mattered?


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