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Research Roundup for December 2020

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Welcome back to TPI’s Research Roundup, our semi-regular compilation of recent outside research of interest to tech policy nerds.  If you’ve read a paper you think might be interesting to include in the next roundup, feel free to send it to nlovin@techpolicyinstitute.org

DISCLAIMER: The papers and authors are not affiliated with TPI. We do not necessarily agree with everything, or even anything, in these papers, but find them interesting and informative.

Social Media, News Consumption, and Polarization by Ro’ee Levy

What it is: An experiment of how exposure to news media effects political orientation.

What they find: The experiment randomly presented participants with an invitation to “like” left-leaning news sources on Facebook, right-leaning sources, or neither. Participants who liked sources counter to their own leanings slightly decreased negative attitudes towards the other side, and vice-versa, although they did not change their opinions. Facebook’s own algorithms then showed more posts from the new outlets to participants who liked sources consistent with their own views than it did to participants who liked sources that leaned in a different direction than their own views.

Why it matters: Social media’s role in political polarization is hotly debated. This paper suggests that social media can increase polarization, but can also reduce it.

Building on What Works: An Analysis of US Broadband Policy By Jonathan E. Nuechterlein & Howard Shelanski

What it is: A review of the state of US broadband, broadband policy, and suggestions for new changes in broadband policy.

What they find: Cable and DSL companies compete with each other more than popular “monopoly” or “duopoly” arguments suggest, reducing the need for economic regulation in broadband. They argue that facilities sharing obligations do not address any actual problems facing ISPs and would fall in the same way unbundled network element exchanges did in the 1990s. Finally, they discuss the contradictions programs such as Lifeline and municipal broadband can face when put alongside competition policy.

Why it matters: With the need for universal broadband being more visible due to the pandemic, and the transition to a new presidential administration, understanding the costs and benefits of changes to broadband policy is key to know how to move forward.

Economics at the FCC 2019-2020: Spectrum Policy, Universal Service, Inmate Calling, and Telehealth by Allison Baker et al.

What it is: A review of work done by the FCC’s economics team in 2019 and 2020.

What it covers: Spectrum: C-Band, 2.5 GHz, and millimeter wave. Universal service: the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the 5G Fund, as well as the economics surrounding the auction design and 5G bid adjustment factors. In addition to those important mainstays of FCC policy, the report also discusses the economic analysis of the inmate calling system market and how the analysis contributed to the new regulation on inmate calling rates. Finally, it covers the ways that the economics division of the FCC contributed to new telehealth programs in response to COVID-19.

Why it matters: This paper shows the important role that economists play at the FCC. In addition, it provides a good overview of the policies the FCC has been pursuing in the past two years for people who are not fully following the FCC.

Social Media and Newsroom Production Decisions by Julia Cagé, Nicolas Hervé and Béatrice Mazoyer

What it is: An analysis of how social media influences which stories get mainstream coverage.

What they find: They identify the effect of more tweets on news coverage by analyzing millions of tweets about particular events and connecting the accounts of the first people to tweet to the accounts of journalists in the network of followers on Twitter. The analysis, including empirical efforts to identify causality, suggests that an increase of 1000 tweets before the first news publication causes the number of articles about an event to go up by 0.38.

Why it matters: Understanding the interplay between social media and traditional media helps to understand how social media affects society. 

Does Shark Tank Enhance Entrepreneurial Activities? By Caspar David Peter and Jochen Pierk

What it is: A study of how Shark Tank/Dragons’ Den affects entrepreneurship around the world.

What they find: Introducing a local version of Shark Tank is associated to a 13% increase in newly registered firms in the first year after airing, but no statistically significant affect after the first year. The show is not more likely to be introduced in countries already experiencing a burst of entrepreneurship, suggesting Shark Tankcaused the increase by propelling the marginal entrepreneur to start a firm. After the first year or so, however, the country has burned through its reserve of marginal entrepreneurs and returns to its baseline rate of entrepreneurship.

Why it matters: Entrepreneurship is a major source of innovation and this suggests a possible way to encourage more entrepreneurship. In addition, this study helps us to understand the effects of media on viewers economic behavior. A useful follow-up analysis would examine how well these new firms performed. Did the rate of business failures rise after 2, 3, 5 years rise as well?