FCC Begins Weakening The Definition Of Quality Broadband Deployment To Aid Lazy, Uncompetitive ISPs

from the It's-not-a-problem-if-we-say-so dept

You may be shocked to learn this, but like most U.S. regulatory agencies, the FCC’s top Commissioner spots are occassionally staffed by individuals that spend a bit too much time focused on protecting the interests of giant, incumbent, legacy companies (usually before they move on to think tanks, consultant gigs, or law firm policy work financed and steered by those same companies). In the telecom market these folks usually share some fairly consistent, telltale characteristics. One, they’re usually comically incapable of admitting that there’s a lack of competition in the broadband market.

Two, they go to great, sophisticated lengths — usually via the help of economists hired for this precise purpose — to obfuscate, modify, and twist data until it shows that broadband competition is everywhere and the market is functioning perfectly. After all, if the data shows that there’s no longer a problem — you can justify your complete and total apathy toward doing anything about it.

We’ve seen this cycle play out time and time again, and it’s a major reason most of us have shitty broadband. Under former FCC boss Michael Powell (now shockingly the head lobbyist for the entire cable industry), the FCC repeatedly proclaimed that the broadband industry was so competitive, we didn’t need rules, regulations, or consumer protections governing their behavior. And when anyone provided evidence that existing providers like Comcast were little more than walking shitshows, Powell would consistently insist that these complaints were utterly hallucinated.

This sort of behavior continued for a while under Obama-era FCC boss Julius Genachowski. But his successor, Tom Wheeler shocked a few people by actually acknowledging the industry wasn’t competitive. Wheeler went so far as to raise the base definition of broadband to a more modern 25 Mbps, a decision the industry whined incessantly over. Why? By raising the bar, Wheeler was able to highlight how two-thirds of the country only have the choice of one broadband provider at current generation speeds.

But with Ajit Pai now in charge at the FCC, we’ve once again returned to the regulatory policy of burying your head firmly in the sand to the express benefit of Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. In addition to Pai’s frontal assault on net neutrality, erosion of broadband programs for the poor, protection of prison phone monopolies, derailing of consumer broadband privacy standards and his protection of the cable industry’s set top box monopoly , Pai has begun taking steps to lower the bar when it comes to determining whether or not the country is being adequately connected.

Under the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required by law to track broadband deployment and competition and — if things aren’t up to snuff — the agency is mandated to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” But if you fiddle with how precisely broadband penetration and competition is measured, you can avoid having to do, you know, work to improve things. Enter Ajit Pai, whose agency this week quietly began fiddling with these determinations to the benefit of industry:

“But with Republican Ajit Pai now in charge, the FCC seems poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all one needs. In doing so, the FCC could conclude that broadband is already being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, and thus the commission could take fewer steps to promote deployment and competition.

Of course determining that an area has healthy and competitive broadband if a wireless provider can offer 10 Mbps is a major gift to incumbent ISPs. AT&T and Verizon have been working tirelessly to gut rules requiring they continue to provide cheaper, more reliable fixed-line broadband to rural areas and many less affluent cities, while also wiggling out of fiber upgrade obligations in countless markets. But wireless connections are significantly more expensive and less reliable, and in many smaller and more rural cities won’t be a suitable fixed line replacement for a decade or more.

And while AT&T and Verizon’s own data will insist that they provide 10 Mbps wireless to pretty much everywhere already, if you’ve ever driven across the nation with work to do you can probably attest to the fact this uniform coverage isn’t real. And because the FCC is more concerned about pleasing incumbent broadband providers than actually beefing up competition for consumers, they’re not going to be running out anytime soon to do field tests and fact check wireless carrier data proclaiming 10 Mbps is sprouting up everywhere like weeds.

No, the FCC’s goal here is to technically lower the standard definition of quality broadband from 25 Mbps down, 4 Mbps to, to 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. By doing this, Pai and friends can simply declare the broadband industry ultra-competitive, justifying their failure to actually do anything about the obvious fact that’s simply not true. Of course it’s not being explained that way in the agency’s related notice of inquiry (pdf), the proposal couched under the pretense that we’re simply modernizing the way the FCC operates — or imposing new baseline wireless standards.

If you haven’t carefully watched these ISPs and revolving regulators work tirelessly at protecting their uncompetitive empire for two decades, you might be inclined to believe that line of bullshit. But what the FCC’s actually doing here is really quite simple: they’re fucking with the math and lowering the bar to ankle height as a gift to the nation’s lumbering, uncompetitive duopolies — who’d like it very much if we left the existing, embarrassing status quo well enough alone.

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Comments on “FCC Begins Weakening The Definition Of Quality Broadband Deployment To Aid Lazy, Uncompetitive ISPs”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

That is not how that word works. At all.

Of course it’s not being explained that way in the agency’s related notice of inquiry (pdf), the proposal couched under the pretense that we’re simply modernizing the way the FCC operates — or imposing new baseline wireless standards.

I’m pretty sure ‘modernizing’ something generally doesn’t involve setting standards that are years out of date and hilariously backwards when compared to multiple other countries.

Modernizing a system usually involves making it better, raising the bar of what is acceptable from what it was before, as opposed to what they are trying to do here which is lowering the bar such that the standards are in fact getting worse.

If they’re going to lie in order to yet again serve the interests of their future(and current for all intents and purposes) employers I really wish they could spend five or ten minutes coming up with better, less blatantly obvious lies, for the sake of variety if nothing else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: That is not how that word works. At all.

I’m pretty sure ‘modernizing’ something generally doesn’t involve setting standards that are years out of date and hilariously backwards when compared to multiple other countries.

Actually, it’s entirely dependent on how one defines modernity. If the "modern" thing to do is let large corporations write their own regulations—which does seem to be the case—the statement is accurate.

Modernizing a system usually involves making it better

Things in general, and technology in particular, generally get better as time passes. But that’s your connotation of "modern"; an actual definition is "Pertaining to a current or recent time and style", and regulatory capture is currently "in style" in America.

Ninja says:

Why not lower the definition to 56kbits? This would magically expand coverage to nearly 100% of the US even if you disconsider wireless. Problem solved, the US is the bestest country in the world to have internets!!!!

At this point Pai is just mocking the population. Let’s hope next election delivers a metaphorical kick in the eggs of the Republicans and the legislative can finally put some resistance towards all this destruction. Again, it’s not as if the Democrats are much better but at the very least it would send a clear message.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why not lower the definition to 56kbits? This would magically expand coverage to nearly 100% of the US even if you disconsider wireless.

Nobody ever had "56kbit" service—it was 53 on POTS, and not even that in rural areas. But at least it was unlimited, meaning one could get about 15 GB monthly (still higher than some mobile plans!).

PaulT (profile) says:

“mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all one needs”

…and I’m sure he’s going to be happy to define what he thinks define the “needs”, right? Plus, demand that these figures should reflect *actual* perfomance, not the kind of “we charge for “up to” to 10Mbps, but you’ll probably get 3 under normal circumstances”?

Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, in my horribly regulated country I managed to upgrade from 20Mbps ADSL to 300Mbps when fibre was installed in my area last year, even though I live nowhere near any major cities and local bureaucracy delayed installation for a number of years, mainly thanks to Madrid telling them to get on with it. I’m sure the usual crowd will be along to tell you how bad this kind of regulation is for America.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

One does wonder what would happen if we locked all of his internet access at up to 10 down and upto 1 up.

They get to take jobs with those they are supposed to oversee, and this somehow is okay?
They get special perks like actual speed, actual customer service, and really low bills.

Lets lock them into the hellscape they force upon the rest of us and see how much they still think its enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Piece of Shit Pai,


I have 3 Mbps up (the best speed my ISP has available) and I can’t even livestream video at 720p without constant buffering and interruptions.

720p!! Come the fuck on Pai. You’re telling me that speeds incapable of reaching the video quality of two generations ago is "high speed"?

Anonymous Coward says:

and the only ways to get anything done about this is to have the top politicians who are all accepting kick-backs from the industries under the guise of ‘campaign contributions’ to be called out, named and shamed publicly, continuously, until they actually do something about the way these industries are allowed to get away with what they are doing, and the other thing is to get rid of Pai and have someone in charge of the FCC who actually gives a toss about the job, what it is supposed to be for and help the consumers! then do the ultimate and get rid of Trump because the USA is gonna be so far down the pan at the end of 4 years that it will have to reach up to get hold of the bottom!! communism wont have a touch on it!!

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Wall Street is very short sighted

ISP connection speeds is one area that Wall Street types really leave me scratching my head at their penny-wise pound-foolish approach.

Sure short term they make more profit off of investing in ISPs that don’t spend more on infrastructure. But long term you not only undermine the ISPs when infrastructure ages and decays, you undermine a large part of the US economy to. Hence Wall Street’s hatred for spending more money on ISP infrastructure is actually likely COSTING them money on all the other many businesses they invest in that need fast Internet connections.

Even Wall Street’s “I got mine already” attitude doesn’t make sense here, because the effects of much of the country not having high speed Internet connections does hurt many of their investments.

Plus other economic opportunities to start new businesses simply aren’t possible with bad Internet infrastructure like we have today in much of the country. Imagine for example trying to start YouTube in the 56K dial up Modem era, it’s not possible because the ISP infrastructure wouldn’t have supported it.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Wall Street is very short sighted

It’s like any manner of other things, even health and life-threatening things from which the Wall Street types or other relevant sorts cannot fully insulate themselves, which they promote against their own self-interests. As for Wall Street, they already long ago destroyed the way the investment and return part of capitalism is supposed to operate, including those who like to wave the flag of capitalism political as clearly and morally superior to any other forms or mixes of economies.

Shane Roach (profile) says:

Who is Your Target Audience?

This is classic small government conservative thought. I have talked to many, many conservatives about these issues and the thing I hear among those who are not tech saavy is that they back the big ISP’s because every time they see these arguments that you present, they are attached to far left ideologues.

Just yesterday I and anyone even remotely Pro Trump found ourselves being vilified as Nazi’s on your site for questioning the reluctance of those on the left to denounce ANTIFA as I and pretty much everyone with a heart and five or six functional brain cells denounce Unite the Right and its ex Occupy leader.

Why, pray tell, do you insist on couching your small government solutions in far left wing rhetoric all the time? Or how many times are they going to have to kick and scream red faced for the absolute RIGHT to expand the corporate state apparatus before you stop Kowtowing to them?

If your goal is to effect change in IT regulation, you need to make some editorial decisions on what kind of a site you intend to run.

For self preservation’s sake, I may well find myself voting for anti-competitive conservatives again if I do not see some sense of repentance coming from what I want to believed were some fairly centrist leftist folk.

I simply do not tolerate ANTIFA or BLM. Yes, I am against racism. No, racism is not as bad as it was in 1850, or even 1950. Not by a long shot.

Time to admit good work has been done and Move On.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Who is Your Target Audience?

When you want to label all sort of things and people as “the left”, regardless of what they say or do, or disregard anything as “attached to the left” instead of judging it on its own merits, then those are belief system and critical thinking problems no one can fix for you and your fellow travelers. If one were to carefully craft everything so as to not connect some idea with “the left”, then y’all would just point to it as insidious leftist propaganda masquerading as something palatable to your zone of the right end of the spectrum. The classic small government conservative politicians sell their to you constantly, but we never actually receive the product, do we? What we actually get is bigger government, and some sick joke of stripping out any protections humans were given against corporations and governments.

I can’t even understand some people’s definition of “the left”, but they are happy to push it everywhere.

Your additional comments (qualifications for the right, or something?) made me realize i have a question. What is it about BLM which is inherently “left”?

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who is Your Target Audience?

People who are sympathetic to black issues, specifically housing and job issues in the neighborhoods they are trapped in, are tossed under the bus in the name of Black Lives Matter for not believing there is a need for further oversight of police and state law enforcement, and especially Federal oversight.

BLM is nothing but leftist funded misdirection.

How do you see it as moderate, seeing almost no people right of center respect it at this point? Do you honestly believe that every single conservative really wants all blacks hunted and killed by police?

The entire message of BLM is confused and nonsensical in the face of the evidence. It serves NO purpose EXCEPT as a DNC talking point.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: Do You Read English?

1: This article is a fine example of how mis-regulation stifles the economy.

2: Federal over-reach in regulating the economy for the benefit of well connected business interests is a massive concern for almost all conservatives.

3: For whatever reason, TechDirt is nothing less than one of the most disgusting hotbets for violent, intolerant leftist rhetoric on the entire web.

Why, I wonder, has TechDirt missed that their entire argument – essentially the deregulation of intellectual property – is a CONSERVATIVE MESSAGE that cannot gain traffic because you people HATE CONSERVATIVES?

Shane Roach (profile) says:

ANTIFA: For Or Against?

You all rail against Unite the Right. I just said I oppose them. As a veteran and a citizen and someone that tries to be a decent human being, I oppose Unite the Right. So does every single solitary conservative I know personally, and the vast majority of them that I have seen publicly.

I oppose Nazi ideology. I oppose white nationalist ideology. I oppose militant nationalist ideology. I oppose racism.

Does TechDirt oppose ANTIFA?

Some clarity on this issue might well help you sell your reforms to your natural allies in the small government movement.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: ANTIFA: For Or Against?


I pose opposing Nazi’s and you vote to censor the comment because I ask you to also oppose ANTIFA.

That is just hilarious.

But that’s fine. This is why your small government arguments find no traction. You antagonize anyone who sees through your attempts to expand the government to shut down even the most marginal dissent.

Closing the border is about economics, specifically foreign exchange market abuse. Nearly five decades of completely fiat currency, inflation, and foreign interference to protect the interests, not of this nation or any other nation, but of the banking system and the symbiotic relationship it has with the Fed, is a GIGANTIC FASCIST MACHINE intended for nothing else BUT to control everyone else’s work and redirect profits to the top of the pyramid.

But keep patting yourself on the back for not even knowing what the Triffen Effect even is.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ANTIFA: For Or Against?

Oh great, another obsessive moron who doesn’t know the meaning of censorship, only this time throwing around meaningless buzzwords and right-wing talking points. These people are getting stupider.

Also, what the fuck does the FCC trying to screw the American population on the definition of broadband have to do with closing the border?

David says:

You know what? I'm fine with 10Mbps.

But not as the theoretical maximum connection speed to the next network node (which is, after all, a rather pointless metric since you can otherwise just keep using the same backbone for 10 million customers as for 10000) but as a consumer-affordable guaranteed sustained average interconnection speed to network backbones and out again with no volume caps.

Namely actual 10Mbps all month long, and for a consumer-grade flat rate.

Call me cynical, but I’m the kind of guy who preferred the 400Mbps of Firewire to the 480Mbps of USB 2.0. A bird in the hand is worth two in the ads.

tom (profile) says:

For those in the US, expend a little energy and attend your Congress critter’s town halls. Ask about ISP speeds and privacy policies. Since most folks are asking “asked and answered” questions about ACA, budget, recent events, N Korea,etc, expect to get either a deer in headlight look or political babble. Bring up that the US is well behind much of the world in speed and data availability and why does your Congress critter support our poor ranking? For those with Twitter accounts, post on Trump’s account. Ask why he supports our ‘poor poor ISP speed offerings.’ During the 2018 election cycles, if there is a debate, try to ask the same questions of the assembled candidates. Squalling about it on TD does little good. Most critters and appointed officials don’t look here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“For those in the US, expend a little energy and attend your Congress critter’s town halls.”

Nice try, did you read the one where people do that and their critters tell them to fuck off, sometimes in a nice way and sometimes in harsh ways?

If you will not vote out corrupt politicians, then you got what you deserve!

“Every Nation gets the government it deserves!”

and for those hate that line…

Here is Obama saying the same thing, but its okay for him to say it, just not someone you don’t approve of to say it.

~resident anti FCC nutter

Anonymous Coward says:

Comcast reveals its new high-speed internet plan for rural customers. Pigeons with screenshots!

Comcast will send a pigeon with printed screenshots of the parts of the internet you wish to browse.
– Want to make a comment?
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No problem. Just write your requests on the attached forms and sent the pigeon back. For a low* fee, our crack staff will complete your request with all of the quality service you expect from Comcast.

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