Access to Networks: Economic and Constitutional Connections
141 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2002
A fundamental transformation is taking place in the basic approach to regulating network industries. Policy makers are in the process of abandoning their century-old commitment to rate regulation in favor of a new regulatory approach known as access regulation. Rather than controlling the price of outputs, the new approach focuses on compelling access to and mandating the price of inputs. Unfortunately, this shift in regulatory policy has not been met with an accompanying shift in the manner in which regulatory authorities regulate prices. Specifically, policy makers have continued to base rates on either historical or replacement cost.
We argue that courts and policy makers have largely ignored the fact that this fundamental shift in regulatory approach demands an equally fundamental shift in the approach to setting prices. Economic theory suggests that regulatory authorities should base access prices on market prices. In addition, because compelled access to most telecommunications networks requires that competitors be permitted to place equipment on the network owner's property, access requirements constitute physical takings for which market-based compensation must be paid. Although the unavailability of market-based determinants once justified basing prices on some measure of cost, the shift in regulatory policy (especially when combined with the emergence of direct, facilities-based competition made possible by technological convergence) has caused the justifications for refusing to set rates on the basis of market prices to fall away.
We then use these insights to analyze access pricing with respect to three emerging regulatory issues: (1) access to unbundled network elements mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, (2) the access to utility poles compelled by the 19996 amendments to the Pole Attachments Act, and (3) open access to digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modem networks providing high-speed broadband services.
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