By Stuart Brotman
May 20, 2015 at 5:00 am ET
The Media Institute recently unveiled an analysis that implements a new approach for assessing a country’s broadband Internet capabilities. My five-year study, “Net Vitality: Identifying the Top-Tier Global Broadband Internet Ecosystem Leaders,“ identifies five countries leading in their deployment and use of the broadband Internet ecosystem. The study is based on 52 indices that assess applications and content, devices, and networks, along with relevant macroeconomic factors. The top-tier country leaders of the Net Vitality Index are the United States, South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom and France.
These global broadband Internet leaders exemplify an ability to set a course that favors competitive time over political time. This policy preference reflects an understanding that it often takes at least a decade, if not more, for an industry to create competitive advantage. This is because it takes years to upgrade human skills, invest in products and processes, build interdependent clusters (e.g., the broadband Internet ecosystem) and penetrate foreign markets.
As fast as Internet growth has been in recent years, it still is in the process of building up competitive advantage on a national basis. Developing a regulatory regime this early on may be well intentioned, even politically palatable. But it also poses a real potential barrier to the U.S. and other top-tier global broadband Internet leaders as they continue to build up their own competitive advantages.
Synchronizing the competitive time for companies, which represent a long time arc, with the shorter political time represented by two- and four-year election cycles, is a policy challenge that all the broadband global Internet leaders are facing. The top-tier global broadband Internet leaders understand the importance of a long-term view, and in varying degrees have exhibited greater patience than the political system may be advocating at a particular moment in time. As Harvard University Professor Michael Porter has commented, “Policies that unconsciously undermine innovation and dynamism represent the most common and most profound error” in government policymaking. The top-tier global broadband leaders would be well advised to pay greater attention to this concern as they attempt to balance the interests of competitive and political time.
These countries have benefited most when government is a catalyst and challenger. By encouraging companies to raise their aspirations and move to higher levels of competitive performance, governments of the five leading Net Vitality Index countries have been able to capitalize best on the favorable attributes that each country has in place.
It is not enough to set the policy bar to achieve an Open Internet. As a fuller understanding of the broadband Internet ecosystem reveals, the goal should be a Wide Open Internet, within each country and around the world. The idea of Net Vitality should become an important element of the policy discussion in the United States and elsewhere, further supporting the innovation and investment that has brought us so far to date.
Innovation and investment promise even greater impact for all users as the speed of Internet time continues apace. They are the most important building blocks for government policymakers to take into account if Net Vitality is to maximize the full potential of the broadband Internet ecosystem in the future.
Stuart N. Brotman is a faculty member at Harvard Law School and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. He also serves on The Media Institute’s Global Internet Freedom Advisory Council.