from the in-case-you-hadn't-been-paying-attention dept
While there isn’t that much new there if you’ve been paying attention, the Washington Post has an article about how Japan reached the point where it has a highly competitive broadband market that is cheaper and many times faster than US broadband offerings. The Washington Post version does a pretty good job highlighting how opening up access to the core lines was a big part of it (as was newer infrastructure and the much smaller geographic footprint in Japan). It’s a pretty balanced piece, and good background if you weren’t familiar with the situation in Japan. There is one very interesting point, however, that doesn’t get very much attention in this debate and deserves to be highlighted.
Whenever the debate comes up in the US about unbundling broadband networks and requiring network providers to offer their wholesale pricing to competitive providers, people say that it will kill those network providers and take away all of the incentive to invest in new network technologies. In Japan, it seems the exact opposite happened. When the gov’t required DSL wholesaling to competitors, it certainly increased competition and lowered prices for consumers — but it also opened up new uses for the network that increased demand for bandwidth. That became an opportunity for former monopoly provider NTT who was pushed (thanks to the competition which drove the increased usage) to invest heavily in a new fiber optic network that provided even better speeds and services. And what’s happened? NTT is doing great: “NTT is becoming dominant again in the fiber broadband kingdom,” according to a Japanese professor of telecom economics. This is a point we’ve tried to make repeatedly, but sometimes doesn’t get through clearly: while many people fear that competition hurts innovation by making it tougher to profit, the opposite is usually true. Competition drives innovation as the competitors look for some edge that differentiates them and allows them to profit. That edge pushes the innovation train faster and faster, opening up new opportunities to earn even greater profits. The new things that people can do on fiber networks are going to help NTT (and others) make a lot more money than if it had remained offering pokey DSL without any competition.