Liberty – Not Chinese Industrial Policy – Drives Innovation in America

Last week on The Diane Rehm Show, Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology, and innovation policy, claimed that China “makes us look like a backwater when it comes to [broadband] connectivity.” When she was asked how this could be, Ms. Crawford responded:

It happened because of [Chinese industrial] policy. You can call that overregulation. It’s the way we make innovation happen in America.

Ms. Crawford is wrong on the facts and the philosophy.

The Actual Facts

Two months ago, Ms. Crawford’s former employer, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, released a report with these conclusions:

  • “Broadband networks at a baseline speed of >10 megabits per second now reach more than 94% of U.S. homes.”
  • “In 2012, North America’s average mobile data connection speed was 2.6 Mbps, the fastest in the world, nearly twice that available in Western Europe, and over five times the global average.”
  • “Just two of the largest U.S. telecommunications companies account for greater combined stateside investment than the top five oil/gas companies, and nearly four times more than the big three auto companies combined.”
  • “The average connection speed in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2012 was 7.4 Mbps, the eighth fastest among all nations, and the fastest when compared to other countries with either a similar population or land mass.”

In comparison, the same source used in the President’s report indicates that China’s average connection speed in the fourth quarter of 2012 was only 1.8 Mbps – seventy-five percent slower than in the United States.

Although our average connection speeds lag those in South Korea and Japan, the differences in speed are less significant from a consumer perspective (7.4 Mbps is enough to delivery high definition video, 1.8 Mbps is not) and reflect differences in population densities and landmass.

The Winning Philosophy

Ms. Crawford believes government intervention “makes free markets and free speech possible.” The facts recited above and the First Amendment to our Constitution – written when government intervention in mass communications was commonplace – both refute that philosophy. Whatever you call it, this type of government intervention “has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

In the communications context, that record of failure includes government-sanctioned telephone and cable monopolies that policymakers have spent the last two decades unwinding through market-based policies.

The results of that effort demonstrate that it is liberty – the absence of overregulation – that drives innovation in America. The market-based approach to communications regulation pioneered by the Clinton Administration in the 1990s yielded massive investment in new technologies, competition among communications networks, an explosion in new media, and unprecedented consumer choice. We don’t need government intervention for private sector innovation and investment to continue flourishing – we need continued government restraint.


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