Derek Slater is a Senior Policy Manager at Google
Monkeybrains is a wireless Internet access provider in San Francisco. Created in 1998, it’s not a big company—it’s a small business founded by two friendly engineers and run by a handful of people. Until recently, they only offered broadband speeds similar to old copper telephone networks. But they’ve started rolling out an ultrafast 300 Mbps service, buoyed by a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly half a million dollars and the declining cost of antenna equipment.
In the U.S. broadband market, this sort of development is particularly intriguing. Today, nearly 75% of the country has no choice in broadband providers; at best, most consumers only have two options.
Even if the market of available service providers does not grow significantly, the market becoming more contestable—meaning an increased potential for new entrants—could be a significant development. That would make existing Internet service providers much more concerned about customer satisfaction—and that’s good for consumers.
More competition, especially at high speeds, isn’t inevitable though. Even as the technology matures and costs continue to come down, there are a number of barriers to entry that policymakers can help address, including:
- Spectrum reform: ultrafast wireless services would be much easier to deploy if there was more spectrum available for both exclusive and shared use.
- Access to video programming: most consumers expect to buy a TV package with their Internet access, but it is difficult for new entrants to license broadcast and cable TV channels at competitive prices.
- Rights of way, siting for the equipment, and permitting processes: cities could make it easier to put up wireless equipment in public rights of way. This of course needs to be balanced against a range of factors—including a desire to not have a city cluttered with lots of wireless equipment.