Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Robert Crandall: Legislators and Regulators Must Exercise Humility

In August, Dr. Robert Crandall, a member of the Free State Foundation’s Board of Academic Advisors, authored a report titled “The Effects of Rapid Technological Change on Regulatory Policies in the Communications Sector.” Dr. Crandall discusses how regulation in industries characterized by rapid technological change often leads to counterproductive constraints on firms.

The report examines four cases studies of regulation in the communications sector:
  • The artificial distinction between “local” and “long-distance” calling in telecommunications regulation
  • The 1996 Telecommunications Act’s costly failure with regard to local network unbundling
  • Deregulation, reregulation, and deregulation of cable television rates
  • The AOL-Time Warner Merger

Dr. Crandall uses these examples to explain how well-intentioned regulation can lead to unintended consequences that have detrimental effects on consumers, like foregone investment in broadband infrastructure. He states:

In each of these examples of policymaking in the communications sector, technological change – and the associated market changes – helped to render a policy decision unnecessary or irrelevant. In each case, legislators and regulators could not predict the future changes in market conditions brought about by changing technologies and consumers’ adaptation to these changes, leading to serious policy errors with adverse effects on consumer welfare.

Dr. Crandall concludes that regulators should be careful not to impede investment in new technologies, like 5G, through regulatory interventions. And in the context of mergers, agencies generally should not impose regulatory conditions of approval because oftentimes technological innovation quickly renders the conditions outdated or irrelevant.

As I stated in a blog last week, U.S. mobile data traffic is projected to grow fivefold from 2017 to 2022 and the deployment of 5G technology is expected to create 3 million jobs, $275 billion in investment, and $500 billion in annual economic activity. In order for consumers to enjoy these projected economic benefits, as Dr. Crandall states, legislators and regulators must exercise humility when considering laws and regulations in the dynamic broadband marketplace.