New York State of Mind

As reported in The Hill, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) has voted to ban New York’s largest cable company, Charter Communications (operating there under the name “Spectrum”), in part, according to PSC Chairman John B. Rhodes for its “brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State.”

Aside from showing insufficient respect for the bureaucrats whose jobs their tax money funds, Charter was accused of not giving away enough stuff, in the form of expansion of broadband internet services to 145,000 “unserved” (0-24.9 megabits-second (Mbps)) and “underserved” (download speeds of 25-99.9 Mbps) homes [1]. To put that in perspective, Netflix recommends 5.0 Mbps as sufficient for HD streaming video, and 25 Mbps for Ultra HD .

So, the New York PSC is defining those who are already capable of streaming HD video “unserved” and those who can easily stream Ultra HD video “underserved.”  Evidently regulators must step in and redress this great injustice.  Somewhere, somehow, in the Empire State is a couch potato who can only watch one Ultra HD streaming video at a time, and is incapable of simultaneously recording six channels to their DVR.  How this can happen in a nation that considers itself civilized is beyond me.

One wonders whether broadband has become a bullet train in the minds of central planners.

Of course, speed is just one aspect of broadband service. Price, reliability, customer service, bundled content offers, etc., are other aspects.  How does the state know which characteristics consumers value most?  They don’t.  In fact, if we asked that question I’d expect only blank stares in response.  “These go to 11.”

I could now start on a lengthy digression regarding the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism.  How exactly does the PSC know what the “correct” broadband is for someone?  How do we know it is not 10x more?  Or 1/3 less?  Even technologists, at the forefront, get questions like this wrong.  Bill Gates famously claimed, in 1981, that for desktop PCs, “640K [of memory] ought to be enough for anybody.”  Today my wrist watch has 1,000x as much memory.  Technology improved in many dimensions over time:  greater capacity, smaller size, lower cost, faster speed, etc.  Are government bureaucrats really the ones to know the best combination of features, and to chart a course that will lead us from here to there?  Or is this something that free markets do better?

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Of course, the alternate explanation might be the simpler one, that the real reason for the ire against Charter Communications is that they have not (yet) kowtowed to the labor unions.  But the PSC has.

[1] See “Order Granting Joint Petition Subject to Conditions,” p.  53, (PDF).


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