Economic Case for Voluntary Structural Separation

37 Pages Posted: 9 May 2012

See all articles by William Lehr

William Lehr

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL)

R. Glenn Hubbard

Columbia Business School - Finance and Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: September 15, 2003


In recent years, there has been much interest and discussion about the desirability of mandating structural separation of incumbent local exchange carriers into separate regulated and unregulated businesses (Crandall and Sidak, 2002 4 ; Hall and Lehr, 2002 5 ; OECD, 20016 ). While it is conceivable that further advances in technology and business models will enable sustainable and adequate local infrastructure competition to eliminate any question of a bottleneck for last- mile access facilities, it is also conceivable (even probable) that next generation broadband infrastructure (e.g., fiber to the home) will once again revive concerns about last-mile monopolies. This paper takes a step back from the policy question of the desirability of mandatory structural remedies to focus on the private incentives for providers of last- mile facilities to structurally separate voluntarily in a broadband future. We take as a starting point a hypothetical world in which the provider of broadband access services would be required to provide regulated wholesale access to its local network, while at the same time continuing to compete in downstream retail markets that might otherwise be unregulated. The marriage of regulated and unregulated services within a single firm has been uncomfortable – at best – for regulators, managers, and investors. The standard economic analysis of structural separation focuses on the coordination, scale, or scope economies that would be foregone by divesting the regulated and unregulated activities, and compares those to prospective welfare gains from implementing more effective open access to bottleneck facilities.

While this analysis provides a useful starting point, it is incomplete. Economic, organization, and finance theory suggest a number of additional reasons why a firm operating in mixed markets might choose to separate its regulated and unregulated activities. In this paper, we apply these arguments to expand understanding of the conditions under which a firm would seek to structurally separate voluntarily.

We conclude that much of the current resistance by incumbents to structural separation is based on their belief that the open access regime adopted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is temporary. In a future with effective open access rules, incumbents may find it advantageous to structurally separate voluntarily.

Suggested Citation

Lehr, William and Hubbard, Robert Glenn, Economic Case for Voluntary Structural Separation (September 15, 2003). TPRC 2009. Available at SSRN:

William Lehr (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) ( email )

Stata Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Robert Glenn Hubbard

Columbia Business School - Finance and Economics ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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