Competition and Chaos: U.S. Telecommunications since the 1996 Telecom Act

Brookings Institution Press
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The 1996 Telecommunications Act was an attempt to increase competition among telecommunications providers in the United States by reducing regulatory barriers to market entry. This competition was expected to drive innovation in the telecommunications sector and reap economic benefits for both American consumers and telecommunications providers. The legislation, however, had a markedly different impact. While many of the more aggressive providers enjoyed sharp short-term rises in stock market values, they soon faced sudden collapse, leaving consumers with little or no long-term benefit.

In Competition and Chaos, Robert W. Crandall analyzes the impact of the 1996 act on economic welfare in the United States and how the act and its antecedents affected the major telecommunications providers. He argues that the act was far too stringent, inviting the Federal Communications Commission and state regulators to micromanage competitive entry into local telecommunications markets. Combined with the bursting of the dot.com and telecom stock market bubbles, this aggressive policy invited new and existing firms to invest billions of dollars unwisely, leading to the 2001–02 collapse of equity values throughout the sector. New entrants into the market invested more than $50 billion in unproductive assets that were quickly wiped out through massive failures. The 1996 act allowed the independent long-distance companies, such as MCI and AT&T, to live a few years longer. But today they are a threatened species, caught in a downward spiral of declining prices and substantial losses. The industry is preparing for an intense battle for market share among three sets of carriers: the wireless companies, the local telephone carriers, and the cable television businesses. Each has its own particular advantage in one of the three major segments of the market—voice, data, and video—but none is assured a clear path to dominance. Although the telecom stock market collapse is now history and the survivors are investing once again, Crandall concludes that the regulators have failed to adapt to the chaos to which they contributed.

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About the author

Robert W. Crandall is a senior fellow in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution, where his research has focused on telecommunications and cable television regulation, industrial organization and policy, and the changing regional structure of the U.S. economy. His previous books include Broadband: Should We Regulate Internet Access? (Brookings, 2002), Telecommunications Liberalization on Two Sides of the Atlantic (Brookings, 2001) and Who Pays for Universal Service? (Brookings, 2000).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Apr 26, 2005
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Pages
212
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ISBN
9780815797708
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Industries / General
Technology & Engineering / Telecommunications
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Robert W. Crandall
The U.S. telecommunications industry has undergone dramatic changes in recent years that have touched almost every American home and business. The average American can dial almost anywhere in the world directly, store and forward a message, or transmit a fax in less than a minute; often for less than the real cost of a 500-mile telephone call tweny-five years ago. The combination of telecommunications breakthroughs, competition among new and old carriers, and the AT&T breakup has transformed the telephone industry and provided customers with a new array of equipment and services.

Robert W. Crandall examines the effects of the AT&T breakup and weighs the costs and benefits to the residential and business consumer. On balance, he finds that the efficiency gains from opening up the telephone industry have more than offset the possible efficiency losses, which may be caused by the sacrifice of economies of scale and scope or the absence of fully compatible equipment and services. The replacement of regulation with competition has led to greater productivity in the telephone industry, a more efficient rate structure, and lower equipment prices.

Crandall traces the telecommunications evolution from its early beginnings as pairs of copper wires up through the historic 1982 decision to divest. He investigates the impact of technological changes, competition, and the advent of divestiture on the quality of service, local and interexchange service rates, productive efficiency, and income distribution. He also focuses on problems that linger after the breakup in the increasingly competitive but highly regulated sector.

Arthur Herman
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SELECTED BY THE ECONOMIST AS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Remarkable as it may seem today, there once was a time when the president of the United States could pick up the phone and ask the president of General Motors to resign his position and take the reins of a great national enterprise. And the CEO would oblige, no questions asked, because it was his patriotic duty.
 
In Freedom’s Forge, bestselling author Arthur Herman takes us back to that time, revealing how two extraordinary American businessmen—automobile magnate William Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser—helped corral, cajole, and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II.
 
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
 
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
 
Featuring behind-the-scenes portraits of FDR, George Marshall, Henry Stimson, Harry Hopkins, Jimmy Doolittle, and Curtis LeMay, as well as scores of largely forgotten heroes and heroines of the wartime industrial effort, Freedom’s Forge is the American story writ large. It vividly re-creates American industry’s finest hour, when the nation’s business elites put aside their pursuit of profits and set about saving the world.

Praise for Freedom’s Forge
 
“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


From the Hardcover edition.
Tom Wainwright
What drug lords learned from big business

How does a budding cartel boss succeed (and survive) in the 300 billion illegal drug business? By learning from the best, of course. From creating brand value to fine-tuning customer service, the folks running cartels have been attentive students of the strategy and tactics used by corporations such as Walmart, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola.
     And what can government learn to combat this scourge? By analyzing the cartels as companies, law enforcers might better understand how they work—and stop throwing away 100 billion a year in a futile effort to win the “war” against this global, highly organized business.
     Your intrepid guide to the most exotic and brutal industry on earth is Tom Wainwright. Picking his way through Andean cocaine fields, Central American prisons, Colorado pot shops, and the online drug dens of the Dark Web, Wainwright provides a fresh, innovative look into the drug trade and its 250 million customers.
     The cast of characters includes “Bin Laden,” the Bolivian coca guide; “Old Lin,” the Salvadoran gang leader; “Starboy,” the millionaire New Zealand pill maker; and a cozy Mexican grandmother who cooks blueberry pancakes while plotting murder. Along with presidents, cops, and teenage hitmen, they explain such matters as the business purpose for head-to-toe tattoos, how gangs decide whether to compete or collude, and why cartels care a surprising amount about corporate social responsibility.
More than just an investigation of how drug cartels do business, Narconomics is also a blueprint for how to defeat them.
Robert W. Crandall
The rapid pace of technological change is placing the world's telephone companies in a very difficult position. Fiber optics cables, wireless telephones, digital signal compression, and sophisticated new switching equipment are lowering the cost of providing service and opening the gates to new competition. At the same time, these new technologies are providing the telephone companies with a wide array of new market opportunities. Unfortunately, their status as regulated carriers makes it difficult to exploit these new opportunities and to fend off competitive assaults on their traditional telephone business. As long as they are regulated, they can be accused of using their monopoly services to cross-subsidize new competitive ventures. But partial deregulation and open entry would be a catastrophe for them unless they were allowed to revise their rate structure.

There is a widespread misconception that the U.S. telecommunications industry has been "deregulated" and that Canadian authorities are following the U.S. lead. In fact, most services remain regulated, even though some markets, such as long-distance services, equipment sales and rentals, and local services, have been opened up. This book reviews the recent changes in the structure of U.S. and Canadian telecommunications industries and the changes in regulatory policy on both sides of the border. The authors analyze the effects of these changes in regulation on telephone rates in both the local and long-distance markets with particular emphasis on the impacts of regulatory reforms and competition on long-distance rates. They use their results to suggest how regulation should be structured to allow competition to replace monopoly on the road to the information superhighway.

The authors contend that for decades misguided regulation of the telephone sector in both Canada and the U.S. denied consumers the benefits of competition, distorted local and long-distance telephone rates, and blocked entry of new carriers and new technologies. They warn that the continued regulation of the telecommunications industry could be responsible for slowing the transition from "plain old telephone service" to a telecommunications marketplace that offers a wide variety of services. They conclude by outlining the choices open to policymakers and calling for liberalized competition all along the information superhighway.

Robert W. Crandall
In virtually every country, the price of residential access to the telephone network is kept low and cross-subsidized by business services, long distance calling, and various other telephone services. This pricing practice is widely defended as necessary to promote "universal service," but Crandall and Waverman show that it has little effect on telephone subscriptions while it has major harmful effects on the value of all telephone service. The higher prices for long distance calls reduce calling, shift the burden of paying for the network to those whose social networks are widely dispersed. Therefore, many poor and rural households--the intended beneficiaries of the pricing strategy--are forced to pay far more for telephone service than they would if prices reflected the cost of service. Despite these burdens, Congress has extended the subsidies to advanced services for schools, libraries, and rural health facilities. Crandall and Waverman show that other regulated utilities are not burdened with similarly inefficient cross-subsidy schemes, yet universality of water, natural gas, and electricity service is achieved. As local telephone service competition develops in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the universal-service subsidy system will have to change. Subsidies will have to be paid from taxes on telecom services and paid directly to carriers or subscribers. Crandall and Waverman show that an intrastate tax designed to pay for each state's subsidized subscriptions is far less costly to the economy than an interstate tax. Robert W. Crandall is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. Leonard Waverman is a visiting professor at the London Business School, on leave from the University of Toronto. They are coauthors of Talk Is Cheap: The Promise of Regulatory Reform in North American Telecommunications (Brookings, 1995).
Clifford Winston
Not many Americans think of the legal profession as a monopoly, but it is. Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law for nearly twenty-five years, would likely not have been allowed to practice today. Without a law degree from an American Bar Association–sanctioned institution, a would-be lawyer is allowed to practice law in only a few states. ABA regulations also prevent even licensed lawyers who work for firms that are not owned and managed by lawyers from providing legal services. At the same time, a slate of government policies has increased the demand for lawyers' services. Basic economics suggests that those entry barriers and restrictions combined with government-induced demand for lawyers will continue to drive the price of legal services even higher.

Clifford Winston, Robert Crandall, and Vikram Maheshri argue that these increased costs cannot be economically justified. They create significant social costs, hamper innovation, misallocate the nation's labor resources, and create socially perverse incentives. In the end, attorneys support inefficient policies that preserve and enhance their own wealth, to the detriment of the general population.

To fix this situation, the authors propose a novel solution: deregulation of the legal profession. Lowering the barriers to entry will force lawyers to compete more intensely with each other and to face competition from nonlawyers and firms that are not owned and managed by lawyers. The book provides a much-needed analysis of why legal costs are so high and how they can be reduced without sacrificing the quality of legal services.

Robert W. Crandall
There is widespread concern in the telecommunications industry that public policy may be impeding the continued development of the Internet into a high-speed communications network. In the absence of ubiquitous, high-speed ¡°broadband¡± Internet connections for residential and small-business customers, the demand for IT equipment and new Internet service applications may stagnate. Broadband policy is controversial in large part because of the differences in the regulatory regimes faced by different types of carriers. Cable television companies face neither retail price regulation of their cable modem services nor any requirements to make their facilities available to competitors. Local telephone companies, on the other hand, face both retail price regulation for their DSL service and a requirement imposed by the 1996 Telecommunications Act that they ¡°unbundle¡± their network facilities and lease them to rivals. Finally, new entrants are largely unregulated, but many rely on facilities leased from the incumbent telephone companies at regulated rates to connect to their customers. This asymmetric regulation is the focus of this volume, in which telecommunications scholars address the public policy issues that have arisen over the deployment of new high-speed telecommunications services. Robert W. Crandall is a senior fellow in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution. His previous books include (with Martin Cave) Telecommunications Liberalization on Two Sides of the Atlantic (2001) and (with Leonard Waverman) Who Pays for Universal Service? (Brookings 2000). James H. Alleman is an associate professor in interdisciplinary telecommunications at the College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado, on leave at Columbia University.
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