The Tragedy of the Commons revisited

November 17, 2009

in Access,Government,Services,The Blog

Tragedy of the Commons 300x225 The Tragedy of the Commons revisitedI was on my way to an appointment figuring out new view-points and reasons why we must consider seriously the option to allow sharing of the NGN physical infrastructures (e.g. open access, unbundling and the like) and not simply let/allow/encourage/facilitate anyone to digg at will, when there before my eyes saw the hardest evidence I could ever record on camera! This picture depicts Mavromichali Str. (few blocks south of Alexandras ave.), a street in Athens, relatively close to the center. The street is approximately 4-5 meters wide and as it seems very popular to telecom operators! 4 fiber networks and 3 public utility networks run underneath it. That’s 7 networks in total,. We have no FTTH in the city (these are metro networks or FTTBusiness connections) and the underground is already overcrowded.

Imagine what this means in terms of costs and time to maintain/upgrade the water or sewage pipes for example, or imagine the chances to not hit anything if someone decides to dig vertically across the street!

I have reservations [Infrastructure-based Competition in NGA: The Best Way Forward? - Facilities-based Competition vs. Open Access Networks] regarding the applicability of infrastructure based competition in all cases (as recommended in EC policy documents). No doubt, geographical economies will benefit from competing alternatives. Even better, the biggest the independence between these alternatives the higher are the incentives for differentiation, thus innovation.

However, I tend to conclude that the marshallian social welfare is not positively correlated with the existence of redundant physical infrastructure in our cities. If we let the market alone to decide the when the how and the where of physical broadband infrastructures we risk the depletion of the street’s underground capacity. The regulators and the Governments need to realize that the street’s underground capacity is not abundant and it must be exploited with care[1].

My point boils down to this: Excluding US with the widest ever streets, Paris with the widest sewers  system  ever constructed, and possibly a few more cases, for the remaining of us letting anyone with a trencher and a license to dig without a long-term plan may not be such a good idea after all!

[1] Don’t think this as an exaggeration. Imagine the fate of other commons (such as air, forests, sea water, potable water, fisheries etc) and reflect upon the consequences (quality, availability) of the unconditional exploration of a public resource by the free market.

Related posts:

  1. NGANs: Regulation to Avoid another Tragedy of the Commons
  2. EU Electronic Communications Regulation Revisited

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