Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Penn prof: Corporate-led U.S. Internet reaches more than gov't-led Euro version

Americans who still don't have high-speed Internet don't want it, says Chris Yoo.

Penn prof: Corporate-led U.S. Internet reaches more than gov't-led Euro version

Penn law professor Chris Yoo. (Photo from law.upenn.edu)
Penn law professor Chris Yoo. (Photo from law.upenn.edu)

Christopher S. Yoo, the Penn Law professor who has championed Comcast's and other U.S. telecom giants' control of private Internet lines, has published a 58-page report on "U.S. vs. European Broadband Deployment: What Do the Data Say?" in which he finds that high-speed Internet services -- fiber, high-speed wireless (4G LTE) and cable lines, and 30 megabits/second service generally -- are available in a lot more places in the U.S. than in Europe.

Yoo says that's because leaving cable and phone companies freedom to build their own giant private networks does more to get Internet built than the government-based systems in Europe, where countries subsidize fiber and force network operators to share their lines with rival suppliers, as if they were roads, railroads, oldtime AT&T phone wires or other "common carriers" open to all.

Yoo acknowledges that high-speed Internet in Europe is cheaper than in the U.S., and generally a little faster. But he makes the decision, early on, to count "coverage" (how many homes are in places where they could buy fast Internet if they wanted?) rather than the number of people who actually use Internet service (because people won don't buy Internet service mostly can afford it but don't really want it, he argues, citing Pew Research Center Internet Project's 2013 study, Who's Not Online and Why). 

Using that homes-passed approach, Yoo concludes that "concerns that the U.S. is losing the broadband race are misplaced," and that, to the contrary, "it is Europe that has fallen behind the U.S." in terms of the availability of high-speed Internet services.

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He notes that American networks have spent a lot more building Internet, per capita, than the Europeans in recent years; Yoo traces this to competition and the incentive for building that private ownership gives companies like Comcast. In case studies, Yoo also notes that European countries where cable has competed with other telecom suppliers (Netherlands, UK, Germany, Spain) have more high-speed Internet available than centralized telecom states like France and Sweden, though they all still lag the U.S..

Yoo also spends a lot of the report arguing that fiber-based Internet -- the service Google and the phone companies are building in favored markets -- is growing slowly in Europe, despite government support, and is not a solution for the masses, since it will take a lot of money and many years to reach most residents. 

Having found that the data shows "the U.S. is ahead of Europe" as to high-speed Internet availability, Yoo writes that he's left with the problem of explaining why the actual use of "next-generation" high-speed Internet by milllions of people "continues to languish."

Yoo again concludes from the studies he cites "that nonsubscribers do not see the need for the service," and argues that, if we really believe too many Americans aren't sharing in high-peed Internet service, the best thing we can do is advertise and educate in favor of the private Internet services -- "demand-side initiatives to encourage adoption" -- while making it more attractive for Internet providers to seek more customers.

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PhillyDeals posts interviews, drafts and updates that Joseph N. DiStefano writes alongside his Sunday and Monday columns and ongoing articles about Philadelphia-area business.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn. He taught writing and research at St. Joe’s. He has written for the Inquirer since 1989, except when he left a few times to work at Bloomberg and elsewhere. He wrote the book Comcasted, and raised six kids with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com, 215.854.5194, @PhillyJoeD. Read his blog posts at http://www.philly.com/PhillyDeals and his Inquirer columns at http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/joseph-distefano/. Bloomberg posts his items at NH BLG_PHILLYDEAL.

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