Thursday, June 30, 2016

TPP Is Beneficial for Consumers and Entrepreneurs around the Globe

The Cato Institute held an event today releasing an abstract of a forthcoming paper entitled “Should Free Traders Support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?” Yes, free traders should support TPP and so should Congress!
TPP would expand global trade by eliminating roughly 18,000 tariffs that member countries have imposed on imports from the United States, lifting millions of people out of poverty around the world. By removing these trade barriers and others imposed by the United States, TPP would allow consumers and entrepreneurs in all member countries to enjoy more economic activity and lower prices than what the status quo offers.
From an intellectual property perspective, TPP would establish strong protections of IP rights in member countries, allowing artists and entrepreneurs around the globe to earn a return on their creative works and the labor that makes them possible. U.S leadership regarding strong IP rights protections will incentivize more investment, innovation, and economic growth at home and abroad.
See my July 2015 blog on how multilateral trade agreements create global IP protections.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maryland Should Improve Its Fiscal Scorecard

On June 1, 2016, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University released its 2016 edition of “Ranking the States by Fiscal Condition,” which analyzes each U.S. state’s financial health based on short- and long-term debt and other key fiscal obligations, such as unfunded pen­sions and healthcare benefits.
Despite recent news that Maryland received positive bond ratings, the state nevertheless ranks 41st (out of 51 including Puerto Rico) in overall fiscal solvency in the new Mercatus Center study, falling four spots from 37th in 2015. In the study, fiscal solvency breaks down into five categories:
  • Cash solvency. Does Maryland have enough cash on hand to cover its short-term bills? Compared to other states, Maryland is cash insolvent, ranking 43rd out of 51 and falling four spots from 39th in 2015.
  • Budget solvency. Can Maryland cover its fiscal year spending with current revenues? No, Maryland revenues cover 98% of expenses. This ranks Maryland 46th in the country as opposed to 44th in 2015. 
  • Long-run solvency. Can Maryland meet its long-term spending commitments and will there be enough money to cushion it from economic shocks or other long-term fiscal risks? No, Maryland’s net asset ratio is -0.19 and for the second year in a row Maryland ranks 43rd in long-run solvency.
  • Service-level solvency. How much “fiscal slack” does Maryland have to increase spending if citizens demand more services? Maryland ranks in the top half of U.S. states at 16. But this is not an improvement from 2015 when Maryland was ranked 11th.
  • Trust-fund solvency. How much debt does Maryland have and how large are its unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities? Fortunately, Maryland ranks 18th, which is only a slight decrease from 2015 when it was ranked 17th.

Notably, Maryland’s unfunded pension liability is below the national average and its funded ratio is 100%. This means the value of the state’s assets are greater than the value of the state’s pension obligations. In fact, commendably, Maryland is the only state with a funded ratio of 100%. The national average is 74%.
But when it comes to state spending more generally, Maryland’s total primary debt per capita is $2,880, while the national average is only $2,144. Maryland’s ratio of debt to state personal income is below the national average of 6.0% at 5.3%. In other words, Maryland does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem!
A short-term plan for fixing Maryland’s fiscal health should go hand-in-hand with Governor Hogan’s reformist goals when he first took office. By reducing tax and regulatory burdens, as FSF President Randolph May and I discussed in a January 2016 Perspectives from FSF Scholars, Maryland will attract more economic activity that has been migrating over state lines for years. Creating an economy of “permissionless innovation” will incentivize entrepreneurs to open up shop in Maryland. This is the path to improving Maryland’s fiscal scorecard.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Global Counterfeiting: Its Extent and Adverse Impact

On June 20, 2016, the Global IP Center (GIPC) released a new study entitled “Measuring the Magnitude of Global Counterfeiting.” The study analyzes the impact of counterfeiting of products on the 38 countries included in the 2016 GIPC International IP Index. See this February 2016 Free State Foundation blog explaining why the International Index is a useful tool for assessing the level of IP rights protections.
The study includes the following key findings:
  • ·      China alone is estimated to be the source for more than 70% of global physical trade-related counterfeiting, amounting to more than $285 billion. Physical counterfeiting accounts for the equivalent of 12.5% of China’s exports of goods and over 1.5% of its GDP. China and Hong Kong together are estimated as the source for 86% of global physical counterfeiting, which translates into $396.5 billion worth of counterfeit goods each year.

  • ·      Besides China and Hong Kong, the remaining countries in the sample account for 85% of world trade but account for 8.76% of global physical counterfeiting.

  • ·      Although data published by customs authorities is lacking, the value of counterfeit goods seized and reported by customs authorities today from the sample of 38 countries ($5.2 billion) represents slightly less than 2.5% of the global measure of physical counterfeiting of $461 billion.
Counterfeiting of products poses direct health and safety threats to consumers and also decreases innovation and economic activity because entrepreneurs have little incentive to create and develop goods in countries with weak IP rights protections. In 2013, physical counterfeiting cost consumers and entrepreneurs $461 billion in economic activity.

It is important that countries with weak IP rights protections, such as China and India, quickly strengthen their IP rights protections to discourage this illegal activity. Together, GIPC’s counterfeiting study and International IP Index are useful tools in helping policymakers around the world understand how their nations’ IP systems can be improved.
Strong IP rights protections promote creativity, innovation, and investment by artists and entrepreneurs. Consumers, ultimately, are the beneficiaries such creativity, innovation, and investment. The GIPC's new study, "Measuring the Magnitude of Global Counterfeiting," is a valuable resource that reinforces the need to fight counterfeiting."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Online Video Is Driving Internet Traffic Growth

On June 6, 2016, Cisco released its annual Visual Network Index (VNI): Forecast and Methodology, 2015-2020. Consistent with Cisco’s latest Mobile Data Traffic Update, which I highlighted in a February 2016 blog, this new index projects the global growth of Internet traffic and devices on all broadband technologies as opposed to just mobile.
Here are some of the key findings:
  • Global Internet traffic will increase nearly threefold over the next five years and will have increased nearly 100-fold from 2005 to 2020.
  • Smartphone traffic will exceed PC traffic by 2020. In 2015, PCs accounted for 53 percent of total Internet traffic, but by 2020 PCs will account for only 29 percent of traffic. Smartphones will account for 30 percent of total Internet traffic in 2020, up from 8 percent in 2015.
  • Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will comprise two-thirds of total Internet traffic by 2020.
  • Global Internet traffic in 2020 will be equivalent to 95 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005.
  • The number of devices connected to broadband networks will be three times as high as the global population in 2020. There will be 3.4 networked devices per capita by 2020, up from 2.2 networked devices per capita in 2015

The proliferation of video applications is by far the biggest driving force behind the increases in Internet traffic over the past several years and will continue to be for the next five years as connections increase and networks expand. On a global level, video traffic is projected to comprise 79 percent of Internet traffic in 2020. This is an increase of 16 percentage points from 2015 (63 percent).
While the United States certainly has been a leader in the amount of growth in connections and traffic, Cisco projects the rest of the world will have tremendous growth over the next five years. For the U.S. to continue to lead with respect to broadband deployment and innovation in broadband technologies, it is important that the FCC and state and local agencies remove unnecessary and burdensome regulatory barriers that stifle investment and innovation in broadband networks. Additionally, for continued growth in mobile broadband innovation, the FCC needs to allocate more licensed and unlicensed spectrum to meet the increasing consumer demand for advanced services and devices.

Another TAG Effort to Combat Online Piracy

On June 9, 2016, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) announced that advertising agencies Interpublic and Omnicom as well as Google, Go Daddy, and Bayer Consumer Health have joined its voluntary initiative that is aimed at preventing ad placement on websites which facilitate the distribution of pirated content and/or the illegal dissemination of counterfeit goods. (See this February 2015 blog for more on TAG.)

The addition of these companies and advertising agencies to TAG’s ongoing initiative should be helpful in reducing the $2.4 billion that legitimate content creators and entrepreneurs lose to pirated websites each year. In 2014, ad-supported piracy generated $204 million in aggregate revenue according the Digital Citizen’s Alliance. Without the use of Google’s search engine facilitating as much distribution of illegal content, piracy loss should be meaningfully reduced. Google’s support, if implemented properly, should mean YouTube users will not be able to generate ad-supported revenue from pirated content.

It is necessary to address, and diminish, piracy and content theft through voluntary initiatives like TAG's that help ensure that content creators, artists, innovators, and marketers can earn a return on their creative works!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

FCC Should Maintain Safeguards to Curtail Spending for Risky USF Experiments

Whenever the FCC proposes to spend Universal Service money, it is important to remember that the subsidies come out of consumers' pockets. In 2015 alone, USF spending totaled $8.35 billion dollars. The Commission has an obligation to consumers to ensure that USF money is spent wisely. Dollars collected from consumers should not be wasted or risked on untried bureaucratic pet projects.

FSF President Randolph May and I have previously raised concerns about the way the FCC's "rural broadband experiments" are run – including funding rural electric co-ops' and other entities' entry into the broadband business to the tune of $40 million dollars. It's not the FCC's job to artificially create and prop up new business competitors through subsidies. And capitalizing entities with no established operations or experience in the competitive broadband market risks wasting USF dollars collected from consumers.

At the very least, "Strong Safeguards of Scarce Funds Should Govern FCC Broadband Experiments." In a prior blog post, I urged the FCC to maintain its bank-issued letters of credit (LOC) requirements before distributing rural broadband experiment money. Requiring recipients to obtain LOCs from banks helps ensure that disbursed dollars will be returned if recipients fail to meet build-out and service obligations.

According to reports in Telecompetitor, some entities remain unable to obtain LOCs and therefore have not received rural broadband experiment money. This inability comes despite the fact that orders issued by the Commission this spring have loosened LOC requirements.

In other words, it looks like some proposed rural broadband experiments are delayed or won't happen because those would-be recipients of USF money still can't get banks to give them LOCs. But this shows the sensibility of requiring LOCs, not of relaxing the standards. If financial institutions in the business of lending money won't risk giving LOCs to entities participating in rural broadband experiments, why should we want money collected from consumers to be thrown at such risky ventures?

In and of themselves, these rural broadband experiments are problematic on FCC institutional and financial responsibility grounds. But the Commission may not be able to undo what's already been done.

Going forward, however, the Commission ought to retain its Letter of Credit protections. To loosen them further will risk dissipating funds collected from consumers to fund an already excessive USF tax.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Congress Should Consider Blocking Internet Domain Name Transition

Today, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Sean Duffy introduced the “Protecting Internet Freedom Act,” which would prevent the U.S. government from relinquishing oversight of the Internet domain name system without Congressional approval.
In 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for the Internet domain name system, would transition from U.S. oversight to a global multi-stakeholder model. Many critics of the transition, including Senator Cruz, have stated that relinquishing oversight to a global multi-stakeholder model likely will allow repressive foreign governments to impose Internet censorship.
Not only could the global multi-stakeholder model violate First Amendment principles by giving control to repressive foreign governments with a history of Internet censorship, but the transition violates rule of law norms because it bypasses Congressional approval. As proposed, the “Protecting Internet Freedom Act” would prevent the NTIA from furthering this transition, and it would require Congressional approval for any future decisions regarding oversight of the Internet domain name system.
It is important that Congress consider legislation like that introduced by Senator Cruz and Representative Duffy as soon as possible!