FCC Commissioner Thinks Ultra-Fast Broadband Just a 'Novelty'

from the 640K-is-more-memory-than-anyone-will-ever-need dept

One of the hallmarks of Tom Wheeler’s FCC was a renewed focus on competition at higher broadband speeds. It’s one of the reasons the last FCC bumped the standard definition of broadband from a measly 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to 25 Mbps down, and 3 Mbps up. That higher benchmark allowed the FCC to point out that roughly two-thirds of American homes lack access to more than one ISP at 25 Mbps or better, highlighting a growing cable monopoly over broadband as DSL providers like AT&T and Verizon shift their attention toward giant media acquisitions and away from residential broadband.

Needless to say, large broadband providers (and the politicians paid to love them) quickly threw a hissy fit, insisting that nobody really needs that much bandwidth. This idea that you don’t really need faster speeds falls in line with the industry’s (and again, many politicians’) ongoing refusal to acknowledge that the broadband market isn’t all that competitive. After all, if you admit there’s a problem, then you’ve admitted that somebody may just have to fix it.

FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly is squarely on the side of industry on this subject, having voted down the FCC’s higher 25 Mbps benchmark. Even though 25 Mbps is a far from radical benchmark, and 3 Mbps upstream remains a bit of a joke, O’Rielly’s dissent (pdf), made his disdain for faster speeds (and the technologies that will use them) abundantly clear:

“To justify setting the new benchmark at 25/3, as opposed to the current 4/1 or even 10/1 as several commenters suggested, the Report notes that 4K TV requires 25 Mbps. But 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come. While the statute directs us to look at ?advanced? telecommunications capability, this stretches the concept to an untenable extreme. Some people, for example, believe, probably incorrectly, that we are on the path to interplanetary teleportation. Should we include the estimated bandwidth for that as well? ”

Chortle! Guffaw! Of course 4K is here now, the streaming of which is already being hamstrung by ISP usage caps, even on ultra-fast connections. Now on the agency’s majority, O’Rielly last week again proclaimed that the sector really needs to stop focusing on this whole ultra-fast broadband thing, since faster speeds are really just a novelty:

“The outcry for things like ultrahigh-speed service in certain areas means longer waits for those who have no access or still rely on dialup service, as providers rush to serve the denser and more profitable areas that seek upgrades to this level,? O?Rielly said. ?Today, ultrafast residential service is a novelty and good for marketing, but the tiny percentage of people using it cannot drive our policy decisions.”

Of course, that’s not really true. Ultra-fast broadband and even consistent coverage aren’t somehow mutually exclusive; we can focus on getting broadband to rural markets (first at slower speeds), and still enjoy gigabit speeds provided by the likes of Google Fiber. There’s not a longer wait for broadband in Cleveland, for example, just because Google Fiber wants to bring broadband to San Antonio. As we’ve noted, the real reason there are stalled rural broadband deployments is a growing cable monopoly in areas that telcos are effectively giving up on. That FCC data now shows this is not somehow the fault of faster gigabit broadband itself.

The idea that gigabit is a “novelty” or unnecessary bumbles around the newswires occasionally, but originates with industry executives who don’t want their own, slower speeds highlighted. But that doesn’t mean ultra-fast service isn’t important. Data has indicated that prices overall tend to drop in markets with ultra-fast service, which is likely a reflection of the increased competition that brought those speeds in the first place. AT&T’s gigabit broadband service, for example, has been anywhere up to $50 less per month in markets where it faces competition from Google Fiber.

But even if there’s a touch of marketing hype involved in the gigabit race, ISPs benefit from the fascination with faster speeds as well; numerous providers have noted that just advertising these ultra-fast connections causes consumers (most of whom have absolutely no idea what their current speed even is) to call in and upgrade to faster tiers, even if they’re not the fastest options available. As Google Fiber made evident, ultra-fast broadband has captured the imagination of a public tired of overpaying for slower speeds. That excitement, and the surrounding competition, is not a bad thing.

If there’s something that does get overlooked in the hype surrounding faster speeds, it’s the fact that the United States still pays more for broadband service than a laundry list of developing nations, something the industry — and O’Rielly — also don’t want highlighted in FCC policy discussions moving forward.

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Comments on “FCC Commissioner Thinks Ultra-Fast Broadband Just a 'Novelty'”

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aerinai says:

640K ought to be enough for anyone....

It kills me that these slack-jawed idiots that don’t use the internet are the ones in charge of it…

Things that you can’t do on 4/1 that you can barely do on 25/3

– Stream Twitch (3 is paltry)
– Upload a YouTube Video (still takes a LONG TIME if it is of any size)
– Host a website, media server, or video game server at your home
– Watch more than 1 4k stream (average US house has 3+ Tvs)

The years of users only ‘consuming’ data from the internet is over. It is becoming equally important that upload speeds are higher so that an individual can contribute to the internet.

Without proper internet speeds, you are in a backwater thats voice and creativity are stifled because of the hurdles you have to overcome.

These morons (O’Reilly, Pai) are the same dumb apes that think just because the public library has free internet and computers, poor people don’t need internet in their homes… yet I’ve never seen the people making the rules take a public bus an hour each way to have basic access to the internet…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 640K ought to be enough for anyone....

“Things that you can’t do on 4/1 that you can barely do on 25/3”

Well, sure, you just need to think about the implications there. All of the things you mention involve getting content for free, outside of pre-approved services hosted by the media arm of your major ISP or even making your own content and bypassing the legacy gatekeepers! They can’t have that.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Re: 640K ought to be enough for anyone....

Yup, the asymmetrical nature of all these transfer speeds is indicative of how they view Internet connectivity as a consumption platform. Forcing consumers to consume more is beneficial to them in two additional ways, they can continue to claim that it is an Information Service (not Telecommunication) to avoid regulation, and they can charge for the asymmetric peering which occurs because of their captive consumer base.

Chaplain says:

Re: slack-jawed idiots


“… these slack-jawed idiots… are the ones in charge of it…”

Silly Boy — you fail to understand the brilliant political model of government regulation. Ultra-Smart people (like FCC Commissioner Mike O’Reilly) are empowered by the U.S. government to supervise private industry and make broad decisions for all Americans.

FCC personnel are much much smarter than you… and are totally free of bias & self-interest. Government-regulation works perfectly almost everywhere … there’s nothing that could go wrong.

The only possible shortcoming of the FCC is that it does not have enough unaccountable power over the communications markets.

PaulT (profile) says:

“But 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come.”

Well, that really says it all. They’re more concerned about corporations profiting from the current status quo than they are from putting infrastructure in place for predictable incremental increases in bandwidth usage. At best, they’re promising that they’ll wait until everybody’s suffering from a lack of capacity, while guaranteeing that market penetration of new tech will lag behind the rest of the world.

“Some people, for example, believe, probably incorrectly, that we are on the path to interplanetary teleportation. Should we include the estimated bandwidth for that as well?”

Why the hell would that happen on the internet, let alone be the responsibility of just American ISPs? Although, I would suggest that if everybody else is working toward it and the technology’s as mature as 4K is now, they should probably be at least considering it.

I fear that he’s just indicating that he believes workable high capacity bandwidth and Star Trek are on the same level of science fiction. That doesn’t bode well for the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. 4K equipment penetration to the household is high already, and is expected to reach 50% in the US in 2020, just 3 years from now. The broadband market, which could have been years ahead of this, is in NO WAY positioned to be able to be able to support 4k streaming to that much of the market in the same 3 years.

Now Karl Bode says our FCC Commissioner is on the side of industry, but it’s certainly not the equipment industry, or he would be rethinking his position very hard. In fact, there might be a case made that Tom Wheeler was actually supporting the consumer equipment industry as well as the consumer, far better than Pai, who clearly hasn’t a clue about the market as a whole, only about the piece of it that he was involved in for a scant couple of years.


Anonymous Coward says:

and once again, after the TWC cable merger and the fact that Donald Trump isn’t going to fix anything if they get worse, cable companies are abusing the situation and increasing cable and broadband fees. Our cable/broadband bundle bill went up a second time since the merger, now almost reaching $200/month for basic cable (three boxes but no DVRs) + up to 100 Mb/sec internet (which we don’t actually get that of course).

It’s a classic example of how mergers only result in higher prices when there is no one that can enter the market despite the lies businesses wish to tell you.

David says:

Oh wow.

Sorry for multiple bad button presses.

the Report notes that 4K TV requires 25 Mbps. But 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come.

Because of a hen-and-egg situation, right?

Let’s take a look at existing media: Wikipedia tells us:

For users recording digital television programming, the recordable Blu-ray Disc standard’s initial data rate of 36 Mbit/s is more than adequate to record high-definition broadcasts from any source (IPTV, cable/satellite, or terrestrial). BD Video movies have a maximum data transfer rate of 54 Mbit/s, a maximum AV bitrate of 48 Mbit/s (for both audio and video data), and a maximum video bit rate of 40 Mbit/s. This compares to HD DVD movies, which have a maximum data transfer rate of 36 Mbit/s, a maximum AV bitrate of 30.24 Mbit/s, and a maximum video bitrate of 29.4 Mbit/s.

So commonly sold media already eat up more than 25Mbps. But the 25Mbps we are talking about is a household limit.

Last time I looked, a typical U.S. household actually sported more than a single TV set.

So the information superhighway has just the capacity of a single lane. Except that the new FCC commissioner thinks a single lane is more than we’ll need since today’s lanes are wide enough to admit several bicycles.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh wow.

Aw common, they are just trying to teach children to share. Share the bandwidth (take turns, youngest goes first due to bedtime), share their ideology (forced regurgitation of religious dogma in public schools), share their wealth (taxes and civil asset forfeiture), share their humanity (support the police state), share their politics (support the party of your choice, not that there is any real difference between the two, but support your party), share their knowledge (report your neighbors indiscretions, they might be terrorists or planning to harm children), etc..

TMC says:

The Verizon and the Slow Loris

After thinking and praying on it, I’ve discovered the true identity of Mike O’Rielly.

As we all know, Ajit Pai is actually ‘the Verizon’, a cannibalistic, infanticidal undead dingo, that consumes anywhere between 4 babies a day and 7 babies a week, and also is a shill for Verizon.

Mike O’Rielly is harder, because he’s basically just a witless Republican asshole. But this article about his love of molasses-grade internet inspired me, and granted me divine insight as to the true nature of his character. Mike O’Rielly is the Slow Loris, a furry, doll-eyed, metabolically glacial lower mammal who is also apparently highly venomous — which roughly correlates to the inexplicable role this ducking fouche has on American internet policy.

That Average White Guy says:

Wifey's unhealthy interest in those novelty penises

This is exactly the same argument Wifey and I keep having.

She has a weird obsession with POUS’s (Penises Of Unusual Size).

She just does not seem to understand that my 4″ long 1″ around, hereby known as 4/1 (100mmx25mm for you other internet denizens) unit satisfies my needs perfectly and she does not need anything different.

So sadly any POUS, weather 7/4, 10/6, or 12/7, and we won’t even touch 25/4, is simply a novelty, not a necessity, and certainly not a utility, and therefore not eligible for title II regulation, regardless of other features like length, girth, pigmentation, veiny-ness, or coronal ridge.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Clearly because the public is full of gullible fools, easily tricked by the lies regarding ‘new services that faster speeds enable’ and ‘more than one person can use the internet available at a given location at once’, and he has to bravely step up and defend the public from itself.

The public doesn’t really need or want faster speeds, they’ve just been fooled into thinking they do, but that’s okay, he’s there to champion the foolish public and help the ISP’s provide what the public actually wants and needs.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"What we have now is good enough, there's absolutely no need to plan for the future."

“Today, ultrafast residential service is a novelty and good for marketing, but the tiny percentage of people using it cannot drive our policy decisions."

Other things that would also have been classified as ‘novelties’ include:



Streaming of any kind.

Digital purchases of anything larger than an ebook, from music to movies and especially games(good luck downloading a multi-gig file on dial-up).

Real-time audio and/or video communication services.

Amazon and similar online stores

But no worries, everyone knows that none of the above ever amounted to anything, and as such I’m sure that ‘ultra-fast’ broadband or even 25/3 Mbps and the ‘novelties’ that might result from it would be equally pointless and doomed to failure and obscurity.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: "What we have now is good enough, there's absolutely no need to plan for the future."

I’m reminded of discussions around the time Napster became popular. While some organisations were running around like headless chickens trying to work out what to do with digital media and piracy (as, sadly, many still are), I distinctly remember some MPAA representative commenting on the situation. Their stance was essentially “nobody really has broadband and nobody’s going to download movies on a metered connection so we’re not worried about it”.

Of course, fast forward a few years and they joined in the headless chicken run once broadband penetration passed the tipping point. They could have prepared for what was obviously going to happen and profited. But, they pretended that people not doing something today means that they can plan for it after it happens. They were proven wrong. Which probably leaves innovation taking place elsewhere in areas that have the infrastructure, rather than a marketplace that can’t handle the strain because someone didn’t think ahead.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: "What we have now is good enough, there's absolutely no need to plan for the future."

There was a time when the internet itself was a novelty. Fifteen years later Bill Gates said that the internet was just a fad, but I digress.

There was a time when personal computers were a novelty.

Even any kind of a computer was a novelty. And there was maybe a world wide market for only five computers.

At some point radio was a novelty.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: "What we have now is good enough, there's absolutely no need to plan for the future."

Ah, very good point. Go back far enough and you could find the very thing those ‘novelties’ I mentioned depend upon also classified as a novelty, making the act of brushing aside something as ‘just a novelty’ all the more foolish and shortsighted.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If minimum wage is good for the FCC Commissioner, it’s also good for congress, cabinet positions and the president.

I am partly (62%) serious here. Ever serve on a jury? Did you get something like $10 a day for your service?

How many people who make way more than $25 an hour would never take off work for $10 a day. But poor people might take $10 a day when they could be making $10 an hour instead. It is a real sacrifice to some of them.

If congress critters, presidents and cabinet positions were paid minimum wage, would this potentially weed out the worst elements who aspire to power for its own sake, or to influence the business prospects of their wealthy friends? And it would weed out those who seek office merely for wealth instead of power, because they would get no wealth out of it. Like jury duty, it would be a service you perform for the public good.

Or maybe nothing would work to get good honest people into government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have a different proposal. At least where the highest tier elected offices are concerned. Instead of lowering their pay in office, let them keep it. And let them be paid it for the rest of their lives. But don’t let them have any job or any other form of income for the rest of their lives. What’s worse than the drain of money on the tax payer for their salary is that they sell their decisions to companies for even more money while in office or for a well paying job after being in office.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Ultrahigh" speeds in certain areas and better than dialup speeds in other areas are not mutually exclusive things. They simply require companies to redirect a small portion of the revenue currently going to the profit column, to the build out expenses column. And while I’m sure people love to dream about gigabit internet, I’m pretty certain that the sort of speed upgrades most are clamoring for are significantly more basic than that. Most places would be fucking thrilled for years to come at having 100/100 speeds be their basic tier, or even 25/25 their basic tier and 100/100 their second tier.

Then again I’d wager that when O’Rielly says "ultrahigh-speed" he’s still really thinking of 25/3. Hell, I’m not even certain he doesn’t consider anything faster than dialup to be a high speed novelty.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Then again I’d wager that when O’Rielly says "ultrahigh-speed" he’s still really thinking of 25/3. Hell, I’m not even certain he doesn’t consider anything faster than dialup to be a high speed novelty.

Almost certainly, yes. You’re talking about someone that, when the change was made from 4/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps and one of the arguments made was that services like 4K require that sort of speed, he described the comparison as an ‘untenable extreme’ and went full hyperbole by comparing it to interplanetary teleportation.

tubes (profile) says:

Can't Wait for my Novelty

Where I live Fairlawn, OH. The city is halfway finished with their own municipal Gigabit lines (FairlawnGig), they already have half of the city connected. They say to have everything finished by May but it looks like they are ahead of schedule. It’s been really nice & a breath of fresh air they have been providing bi-weekly details on how the construction has been rolling out, maps detailing the what areas are doing what & how far along construction is, details on how “cut the cable” & just general information that most average users wouldn’t know. The pricing & connections will be the exact same as Google Fiber except TV service but who the cares just give me gigabit speeds.
They just started laying out the underground conduit for where section I live. I am really curious how this is all going to work. Where I live we have both TimeWarner & ATT Uverse in the area, I want to see how fast they change their game when the whole city gets connected. I currently have Time Warner (or Spectrum whatever you wanna call it, same shit) & they have been promising since last June to upgrade their highest tier from 60 to 300kb/s but still nothing.

Web_Rat (profile) says:

“Today, ultrafast residential service is a novelty and good for marketing...

Why of course this is a novelty. Most people will be happy with being stuck with the trailing edge technology of the 20th Century POTS. Never mind that the infrastructure supporting it is being abandoned by AT&T, Verizon, etc. Users can now bask in the glory of empty marketing promises that oversell and under delivery a mediocre service all conveniently sold with a plethora of below the line fees that pad the pockets of the shareholders.

ECA (profile) says:


Who remembers HOW long iot took to get upto 100mbps??
I live out in a Very small town along the Freeway..and we get 100+mbps at about $50..
I did an estimate Long ago about Speed, 56k compared to CURRENT speed. I think it was a 16 meg game…would take over 1 year to transfer.. compared to Hours..
ANYONE want to go back to DVD’s??

OK, has anyone setup a FAMILY internet..3-6 devices all connected to 1 Modem and router??
3 tablets, 4 phones, computer and 2 ROKU…
I warned them about the Cap..
The Kids love watching Cartoons and movies…ALL evening.
They HIT that cap the first month..(400gig)

Its interesting that WE WOULD LIKE those ruling over us, to LIVE by our standards…Those standards THEY SET..

Anonymous Coward says:

In the words of Captain Planet...


This all reminds me of the movies that show some 3rd world country (or even not 3rd world, like Mexico for example) where local Police and authorities are paid off to look the other way. Sadly, here in the USA we have the same problem with crooked officials. Only here, we wear nice 3 piece suits.

Boycott or bend over.

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