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Empiris Joins Multitude of Industry Groups in Anti-Berkman Chorus

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WASHINGTON, November 17, 2009 - The consulting firm Empiris LLC joined a host of cable and phone broadband network related entities on Tuesday when it slammed a recent study from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society on broadband policy.

In July the Federal Communications Commission commissioned the Berkman Center to review the existing literature and studies on broadband deployment and usage throughout the world to inform the FCC’s development of a National Broadband Plan. The FCC sought public comment on the study through November 16.

Empiris held a teleconference with bloggers Tuesday to discuss its problems with the report. Empiris argues the study failed to provide an accurate summary of broadband policies in other countries and advances “conclusions that conflict with the evidence found in existing research.”

“The central question for developing broadband services and the infrastructure required to deliver them is how to provide the requisite incentives for carrier investment in such infrastructure,” noted Robert Crandall, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a senior expert for Empiris, in a statement. “The Berkman Study ignores this issue, focusing instead on a policy of intra-platform competition that has been thoroughly discredited in the United States,” he said.

Crandall added in the teleconference that the study does not address what policies would induce the deployment of fiber. The economist Everett Erlich said the idea of unbundling presented in the study not only won’t encourage a universally available broadband network but it “takes us down a very slippery slope.”

The Berkman research found that “open access” policies—unbundling, bitstream access, collocation requirements, wholesaling, and/or functional separation—are almost universally understood as having played a core role in the first generation transition to broadband in most of the high performing countries; that they now play a core role in planning for the next generation transition; and that the positive impact of such policies is strongly supported by the evidence of the first generation broadband transition.”

The report said “open access policies in other countries have sought to increase levels of competition by lowering entry barriers; they aim to use regulation of telecommunications inputs to improve the efficiency of competition in the consumer market in broadband.”

Empiris joins a chorus of groups that are speaking out against the study. Last week, Technology President and Senior Fellow Thomas Lenard called the report “incomplete and not objective” in comments he filed (PDF) with the FCC.

These comments “demonstrate that the study is limited in the literature it reviews and that some of the best economic research in this area reaches conclusions at variance with Berkman’s claims,” said Lenard. He argued that “even if the open access policies recommended by the study were effective (and the evidence suggests they are not), by the time they were implemented we would have little need for them.” Lenard said the study fails to discuss any of the analysis undertaken of the U.S. experience with unbundling requirements under the 1996 Telecom Act.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said in comments it filed with the FCC that the report “is an advocacy piece, not the work of dispassionate scholarship that the commission requested.” Other critics of the study include the U.S. Telecom Association, former Progress & Freedom Foundation senior fellow Bret Swanson, Digital Society Policy Director George Ou, PFF President Adam Thierer, and Link Hoewing of Verizon.

In support of the study, Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said, “This is the most comprehensive presentation of international broadband data available today, and it should put to rest any doubts that the United States is falling far behind the rest of the developed world in broadband performance.”

Scott also opted to tie the report’s findings in with the debate about whether the FCC should move forward with so-called Net neutrality rules to regulate Internet access.

"Furthermore, this study makes clear that Net Neutrality is a very moderate proposal compared to other policy prescriptions that have boosted competition in broadband markets abroad. The FCC should consider all of these policy options. In the short term, Net Neutrality is the minimum needed to protect competition in speech and commerce on the Internet and to help put our faltering policy back on track,” said Scott in a statement.

Reporter-Researcher Eli Evans contributed to this article.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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