United States broadband providers have invested more than $1.3 trillion in network infrastructure from 1996 through 2013, according to a new USTelecom analysis of company capital expenditures data. Broadband provider investment grew to $75 billion in 2013, up by $6 billion, or almost 10 percent, from $69 billion in 2012. The wireline industry invested more than $690 billion from 1996 through 2013 and it invested $28 billion in 2013, up from $26 billion in 2012. The data demonstrate that America’s broadband networks have made a significant effort to deploy more and better broadband across the country, providing clear benefits and global leadership for American consumers and businesses.
Under a bipartisan light-touch regulatory approach over the last couple of decades, the U.S. has encouraged significant investment in both broadband and information technologies, applications, and content. At a time when the U.S. needs to optimize investment in broadband and information technology, some parties are unwisely advocating expanded regulatory intervention through reclassification of broadband as a Title II common carrier service. A recent USTelecom blog explains that such an approach would create negative pressures on investment. Given the extraordinarily high levels of investment and innovation occurring across the broadband and information technology industries, proponents of expanded regulatory intervention have a very high burden to demonstrate such intervention is necessary. Likewise, a recent analysis by the Progressive Policy Institute suggests that a move to Title II would dampen investment.
The benefits of limited regulation have been clear. As a result of broadband investment, Americans have more and better broadband choices than ever before, rising Internet usage, and growing global leadership. According the data from the national broadband map, nearly all Americans can get broadband using any technology. More than 95 percent have access to fixed broadband and 88 percent can choose from two or more fixed providers. More than 99 percent of Americans can get mobile broadband and 97 percent can choose among three or more mobile providers. Additionally, broadband speed offerings continue to improve dramatically. As of the end of 2013, 99 percent of Americans could get broadband at 10 megabits per second (mbps) download or greater, up from 84 percent in mid-2010. Broadband at 25 mbps download or greater was available to 86 percent of Americans, up from 50 percent in 2010. Broadband at 50 mbps download or greater was available to 83 percent of Americans, up from 46 percent in 2010, and 100 mbps download or greater was available to 63 percent of Americans, up from only 11 percent in 2010.
When interpreting this data, it is important to recall that the speed categories are somewhat arbitrary. For example, a 24 Mbps service, such as that widely available in the AT&T U-verse footprint, is not reflected in the 25 Mbps category. Moreover, the trend toward greater network capacity will continue as broadband providers have announced network upgrades, including gigabit fiber expansions, which are not yet reflected in the government data.
Perhaps most telling, U.S. Internet usage continues to grow at an expected rate of 20 percent annually as consumers and businesses adopt the latest innovative network technologies and services, such as online video, mobile, and cloud applications. Additionally, the U.S. maintains a strong and growing position in global Internet leadership. A USTelecom analysis of Cisco data shows the U.S. generates more Internet traffic per user or per capita compared to nearly all other countries and has closed much of the gap with world leader South Korea. According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. has invested more per capita in broadband infrastructure over the last couple of decades than almost all other industrialized nations. The U.S. has greater facilities-based competition in broadband than most of the rest of the world. Also, according to European Union data, faster broadband speeds are more widely available and fourth generation mobile broadband has been deployed more rapidly in the U.S. than in Europe.
Wireline network providers are among the critical contributors to our nation’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. In recent years, a greater portion of broadband investment has shifted from wireline to wireless networks. Wireline networks – excluding cable – accounted for 52 percent of accumulated broadband capital spending from 1996 to 2013, although this share has trended downward over the years as wireless carriers have deployed successive generations of mobile data networks. The wireline portion stood at 37 percent in 2013. Nonetheless, U.S. wireline broadband provides essential elements of the evolving national and global information infrastructure. High-speed fixed access and fiber core networks are and will remain essential to accommodating the large volume of video traffic, small and large enterprise applications, and emerging cloud computing infrastructure. In addition, nearly all of U.S. mobile data traffic utilizes fixed network connections, either cell tower backhaul or WiFi-enabled fixed networks.
Ongoing investment in all broadband networks, wireline and wireless, will be essential to accommodate the expected data traffic growth and enable the continued adoption of more powerful information and communications technologies and applications. Economically efficient investment in U.S. broadband infrastructure will pay off in the form of consumer welfare, business productivity, and global competitiveness. As noted in USTelecom’s blog on investment, a move to stricter Title II regulation could inject unnecessary uncertainty and negative pressures into the broadband investment equation. This poses risks to broadband investment, and also to the so-called “virtuous cycle” of innovation among broadband and related information technology industries.