Shane Greenstein, Susan Mcmaster and Pablo T. Spiller

The Effect of Incentive Regulation on Infrastructure Modernization: Local Exchange Companies’ Deployment of Digital Technology

This study examines the investment patterns of all large local exchange telephone companies in the United States over time. It identifies how different regulatoy environments have influenced the recent historical pattern of investment in modern infrastructure equipment. It focuses exclusively on the postdivestiture experience of local telephone exchange companies (LECs). It examines the growth of fiber-optic deployment and of complementary equipment associated with the modernization of today’s information infrastructure. The study estimates the influence of different regulatory structures on infrastructure deployment by LECs. The study is unique in that if relates individual LEC investment patterns to LEC-specific regulatory, demographic, and economic characteristics. Thus, it isolates the contribution of state regulatory policies from that of other demographic and economic factors in the determination of infrastructure deployment at the state LEC rather than at the corporate level. Its main findings are as follows: First, price regulation (and, in particular, price caps) is a more potent regulatory mechanism than the standard earnings sharing scheme. Second, when associated with an earnings sharing scheme, price regulation is less effective in triggering infrastructure deployment than when it is implemented by itself. These results raise questions about the effectiveness of a popular regulatory instrument-earnings sharing schemes-and highlight the effectiveness of generic price-cap regulation. These results have implications for the design of regulatory policy at both the state and federal levels. In particular, given the importance currently being placed on the development of the information superhighway, regulatory emphasis should be focused more on price regulation than on regulating profits.