Price Controls on Special Access Will Depress Optical Facilities Investment in Rural Areas, Economist Argues

Price controls on special access services  likely would depress investment in new optical facilities for business customers in rural areas of the United States, says James E. Prieger Professor of Economics and Public Policy Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.

In some cases, price controls would reduce retail prices as much as 22 percent to 32 percent, FCC economists have predicted.

Dr. Hal Singer argues that a 30 percent decline in revenue from extending special access regulations to ILECs’ fiber networks would lead to an estimated 55 percent decline in investment in business broadband, for example.

Special access is a product no different than rental apartments, in one clear sense. Rent control policies do keep retail prices low, but also are a deterrent to construction of new affordable housing.

Most-if not all--economists would agree, based on principle and historical behavior of firms in competitive markets with price controls, that price controls will reduce investment.

That might be good for renters occupying price controlled apartments. But new affordable rental housing is discouraged. In fact, even routine maintenance on a rent-controlled unit will fall.

Special access service is based on legacy circuit switched network technology destined to be replaced by Ethernet-based services. So no large service provider has much incentive to invest heavily in additional special access facilities, compared to Ethernet networks, under the best of circumstances.

At the same time, lower potential profit also will deter potential competitors from investing in their own facilities. In substantial part, the same business case issues that make additional special access investment unattractive for tier-one providers also will apply to would-be facilities-based providers as well.

As always is the case, abnormally high profits create incentives for new entrants to enter a market. Low profits are a discouragement.

Price controls, as always, will depress potential return from new special access facilities even further. The business case, as always, is tougher in rural areas than in urban areas.
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