Friday, May 13, 2022

Dropping Consumer Broadband Prices Indicate Lack of Market Power

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for April 2022 shows fixed and mobile broadband prices dropping, after accounting for our nation's staggering inflation rate. Despite the aggregate CPI having a 40-year-high 8.3% annualized inflation rate, mobile broadband prices have decreased by .7% and fixed broadband prices have only increased by 1.7% over the same period. So both are decreasing on "real" (inflation adjusted) terms.

In fact, importantly, wireless broadband prices are dropping even without taking to account inflation. These price changes amount to a 6.6% and 9.0% annualized price cut for fixed and mobile broadband, respectively, providing convincing evidence rebutting assertions that broadband providers have significant market power. As the chart below displays, fixed and wireless broadband annualized prices changes are among the smallest on the CPI.

Note: The CPI refers to fixed broadband as "Internet Service" and mobile broadband as "Wireless Telephone Service"

Price cuts indicate that broadband providers cannot charge higher prices without risking significant competitive backlash. The plunge in real broadband prices is consistent with the view Free State Foundation Director of Policy Studies Seth Cooper and I advanced in our January 2022 Perspectives from FSF Scholars that "overall competitive conditions in the broadband . . . market and across service sectors within the market remained equally strong or even improved." The evidence for robust broadband competition has only strengthened since publication of our Perspectives, with further substantial subscriber growth for innovative, low-price fixed wireless subscriptions and cable MVNO offerings

Real broadband price decreases are also consistent with the benefits of infrastructure reforms implemented by the FCC over the past 5 years that removed substantial deployment barriers, such as the 2018 “Small Cell Order” and 2017 “IP Transition Order.” Removal of those barriers, combined with increasing competition, may have created an environment where provider cost reductions from infrastructure reforms are being returned to the consumer, at least in part, through real price cuts.