My academic research – Evidence-based policy research

Research is the systematic investigation into and study of questions to uncover facts and gather information. Policy research attempts to understand, assess, and compare how policies, regulations, and practices may impact a given market or goal, for example broadband adoption or competition. Evidence-based policy research attempts to collect and assemble facts to help inform a rational, forthright assessment of a given policy approach versus alternatives. In an ideal world, policies would be tested like medicine through a randomized controlled trial (RCT) process, applying a particular solution in a subset of market. The proposed policy solution would subsequently be improved before a retrial and then a subsequent larger application to the second subset or the whole.

In public policy and social science, it is difficult to conduct such clinical experiments.  However, states, provinces, and countries are frequently studied as proxies, for example measuring the policy in state A versus state B, assuming the states have comparable environments, including population, geography, economy, and so on. Such analyses are the closest thing to scientific experiments in economics and although the data is usually less precise, they have an advantage over clinical experiments in that they happen on a larger scale. 

As it can be difficult to measure the same things across countries, policy researchers must make assumptions and generalizations in order to come to meaningful assessments and conclusions. To guard against faulty, spurious, or ill-informed conclusions, policy researchers attempt to test and qualify their findings with statistics and econometrics. These calculations help to determine bring more specificity to research findings, for example how regular or probable an outcome may be.

In general, it is costly and time consuming to perform such steps and calculations. Many policymakers skip them altogether, as they can also suggest information that the preferred policy approach could yield a negative or opposite result, or even have no impact. Moreover, assumptions can drive methodology and result. Two researchers can look at the exact same data and come to different conclusions.

As such, many advise caution and humility before policy interventions, keeping in mind the rule of “do no harm.” Sometimes it may be better to leave a situation alone and let it resolve itself (all things being equal). At the same time, this should not be an excuse to avoid the important work on policy research to monitor and review policy, particularly if it has been in place for years. Reviewing the success of policies with regard to their stated goals is often not that difficult but regrettably happens far too infrequently.

The policy research function plays an important role to bring transparency to decisions, to present more information, to provide alternative solutions, to identify costs and benefits, and to quantify costs and benefits. In reading and developing policy research, I am mindful to these challenges and strive to help policymakers, the press, and the public appreciate such nuances.

My academic background, research, and role

I am a Visiting Researcher with the Centre for Communication, Media and Information technologies (CMI),  Department of Electronics, Aalborg University at the Copenhagen campus in Denmark. CMI offers a unique value proposition for students and teachers: it offers multi-disciplinary education on information technology and communications topics. CMI research uses the problem-based learning (PBL) approach in which the student or researcher drives the learning and frequently works in groups to solve an open-ended problem. Denmark is an ideal place to study international policy because the country has a strong international focus and history and because of its engineering tradition for tech and mobile innovation. 

I teach various topics in technology policy and telecom regulation; I collaborate with other academics and students, and I publish with other researchers. I engage with researchers globally on a range of tech policy topics.

Before entering academe, I spent 15 years in the software analytics in Silicon Valley (Coremetrics, now IBM); TCS Innovation Labs in Hyderabad, India; in financial consultancy and brokerage where I earned securities licenses (US Bancorp/Piper Jaffray), non-profit management, and owning my own consultancy providing online marketing and business development for a range or enterprises in different sectors. My academic interest is driven by my experience of working with thousands of people and companies around the world.

I observed that any country’s internet policy or regulation (or lack thereof) has a tremendous impact on one or a firm engages online. For example, when the FCC announced in 2012 that US companies were under threat from being blocked or throttled by broadband providers, I thought it ridiculous. I had worked with 2000 firms for years, studied their analytics every day, and never observed problems of them reaching their millions of customers because of their broadband provider.

 In fact, the issue was opposite. All the parties in the ecosystem wanted to maximize consumer access and engagement.  However I did see issues of how firms could use platforms to promote their goods and services and whether and to what degree those practices were transparent. It was curious to me why the FCC would make such a statement. I could not find the evidence among my 2000 enterprise customers.

Such a situation is fertile topic for doctoral investigation. For five years, I had the opportunity to study internet policy and regulation around the world. You can read my PhD thesis comparing internet regulation across 53 countries over 5 years here: Which Open Internet Framework is Best for Mobile App innovation? An empirical inquiry of net neutrality rules around the world.

I perform policy research on topics such as broadband internet, policy, regulation, technology, platforms, competition, antitrust, cost recovery, 5G, consumer welfare, internet economics, radio spectrum, spectrum auctions, telecom policy, mobile cellular wireless technologies, security, business models, rural broadband, universal service, connectivity, net neutrality, FTTH, cable, satellite, Wi-Fi, privacy, data protection, transparency, trust, supply chain, resilience, consumer protection, regulatory capture, unintended consequences, and regulators like Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication (BEREC), Ofcom, and so on.

I try to bridge the gap between the domains of academia, policy, industry, press, and the public. For example, few are acquainted with the academic theories which may underpin a given policy. Policy theories and assumptions can drive decisions and outcomes. These may or may not be informed by evidence or interpretation of evidence.  I regularly attend telecom policy conferences like International Telecommunications Society (ITS) and the Telecom Policy Research Conference (TPRC) and have served on the Program Committees of both, including in the role of Chair.

Quick Links

My PhD Thesis comparing internet regulation on 53 countries over 5 years

Academic papers on Social Science Research Network (SSRN)

Papers published by Aalborg University

Other books and papers with different publishers