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FCC Backs Off Plan to Weaken Broadband Definition, But Still Can't Admit Limited Competition Is A Problem

from the two-centimeter-high-jump dept

You might recall that a few years ago the FCC under Tom Wheeler bumped the standard definition of broadband to 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. This greatly upset the broadband industry (and the numerous lawmakers and policy flacks paid to love them) because it highlighted a lack of broadband competition and deployment. That’s especially true at higher speeds, where two-thirds of the U.S. lacks access to more than one ISP at that speed.

But recently, the FCC under industry BFF Ajit Pai began playing around with the idea of weakening this definition. Under Pai’s plan, the FCC would have declared that 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up wireless also counts as “broadband competition,” letting the industry effectively say “mission accomplished.” The problem is that wireless is often more expensive, capped (especially in rural areas), and inconsistently available (carrier coverage maps are notoriously unreliable).

Fortunately, the FCC last week stated that for some, unspecified reason they’d be backing away from the plan. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to continually assess whether broadband is being deployed on a “reasonable and timely basis,” and if not — to do something about it. While the FCC hasn’t released its full assessment yet, Pai ponied up a statement (pdf) last week that makes it clear that Pai believes everything is going swimmingly in the broadband market, thanks largely to his frontal assault on consumer protections like net neutrality:

“The draft report indicates that the pace of both fixed and mobile broadband deployment declined dramatically in the two years following the prior Commission?s Title II Order. However, the draft report also discussed how, over the course of the past year, the current Commission has taken steps to reduce barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition in the broadband marketplace. Taken together, these policies indicate that the current FCC is now meeting its statutory mandate to encourage the deployment of broadband on a reasonable and timely basis.”

So we’ll note for about the hundredth time that the claim that net neutrality hurt investment is a lie easily disproved by publicly-available data. We’ll also remind you that in Pai’s world, “reducing barriers to infrastructure investment” means gutting broadband programs for the poor, protecting the cable industry’s monopoly over the cable box from competition, making it easier for prison phone monopolies to rip off inmate families, dismantling generations old media consolidation rules simply to aid Sinclair Broadcasting’s merger ambitions, killing net neutrality, killing meaningful broadband privacy protections, and helping protect the business broadband and wireless backhaul industry from actual competition. You know, potato, potAHto.

Fortunately, buried in Pai’s rose-colored glasses assessment of the sector is the admission that he won’t work to erode the base definition of broadband, and an acknowledgement that wireless isn’t a valid replacement for fixed-line broadband:

“The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands.”

Yay? While that’s a tiny bit of good news, it’s pretty much standard operating procedure for revolving door regulators like Pai to fiddle with the numbers to pretend a lack of competition isn’t a real problem. After all, if the data suggests there’s a problem, as a public servant you might just be required to push policies aimed at addressing it. So while Pai has retreated from this particular effort to lower the bar to ankle height, you should expect the effort to resurface somewhere else with a decidedly different hue of public relations paint.

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Comments on “FCC Backs Off Plan to Weaken Broadband Definition, But Still Can't Admit Limited Competition Is A Problem”

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Ninja (profile) says:

“You know, potato, potAHto. “

PotAHto Pai?

We still have quite some time of this bloke as the head of FCC and even if somehow the legislative or the lawsuits can reinstate previous rules he can always give his pimps at the telcos some more time by simply not enforcing the rules. Considering he couldn’t care less about his legal obligations in the process of gutting said rules I can imagine him completely ignoring them even if the rules are reinstated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wireless *should* count, kind of

There’s no reason wireless can’t count as broadband, we just need some objective criteria for it. For example, uncapped untrottled 25/3 wireless that allows tethering should count (if it existed), whereas a wired 25/3 connection with a 10 GB cap would be laughable (dialup allows a little over 15 GB, for reference, which is more than many wireless plans).

Wired vs. wireless reflects the reality that wireless has been crap so far. In terms of the future, it would be better to describe what we actually want/need rather than an irrelevant technological factor.

Wylde Stile (profile) says:

Re: Wireless *should* count, kind of

Just like both an airplane and a car are vehicles used to transport people from one place to another, no one would say that they are interchangeable. There are drawbacks to trying to use a car in place of an airplane and vice-versa. The same can be said for wireless and wired broadband.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wireless *should* count, kind of

Just like both an airplane and a car are vehicles used to transport people from one place to another, no one would say that they are interchangeable.

Sure, but there’s no reason to reject an airplane out of hand. Instead, we might request something that can conveniently go door-to-door in 5 minutes, operable by an average person and with a reasonable carbon footprint. A plane can’t do that. But adjust the definition for a cross-country trip and we might get a different result.

There’s no reason to say "no wireless". Instead we say it needs to work in bad weather, with certain latency and bandwidth, allowing minimum quantities of data, without being tied to a specific device, etc. The wireless market is far from meeting any of these goals, but why not future-proof it a bit and open the possibility we could be pleasantly surprised? Whether or not there’s a wire is not what people actually care about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wireless *should* count, kind of

Usually airplanes and particularly jet motors are rather unpleasant for an insufficiently reinforced tar-mat.

There are a lot of technical and physical restrictions on wireless. Setting rules for them may seem reasonable, but how do you define bad weather in a way so it covers, at what distance and with how many trees between you and the tower etc.? Who is responsible for measuring it?

It is unfortune, but as Mike mentions, the coverage maps from the telcos are famously unreliable for the very easily mapped wired connections. Standardizing wireless would be a daunting task since it is a lot more difficult to 3D-map all of USA, including trees. Topology providing obstacles to signals is a known problem.

Standardizing measuring weather impacts is more of a curiosity that would probably end in something akin the fuel efficiency tests of cars (worthless theoretic overstatement of effect since wireless would optimize towards the test and the test cannot take all cocktails into consideration!).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wireless *should* count, kind of

Perhaps there are some physical characteristics that naturally limit the capabilities of wireless as compared to wired?

I agree, but it doesn’t require FCC involvement. Researchers find ways to bypass limits, and the FCC only needs to make sure they won’t interfere with other users… which isn’t relevant here, because they’re only trying to define "broadband".

Here, the FCC just needs to set our target. Whether or not wireless can meet that target is up to the telcos, the research labs, and the physics of the universe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wireless *should* count, kind of

“Researchers find ways to bypass limits”

.. and grifters find ways to bypass laws and regulations
– so what?

I responded to the comment which claimed there is “an irrelevant technological factor” by pointing out that it is not irrelevant.

I doubt there is enough time and space in this blog to throughly explore the technological limits much less the physical limits of our present environment relative to this industry.

And flippant remarks do not add to the discussion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I actually call for the destruction of the regulations that cement these monopolies but the zealots get loopy again and act like I am trying to bring anarchy. Sure since they are actual monopolies they still got my money since I do want internet but I only supported them as much as a family buying food from a bazaar run by thieves.

So I only supported them because I had little choice, YOU supported them by inviting them to run the store so I would say the “type” of support is the problem here.

Jinxed (profile) says:

I know this comment isn’t going to be appreciated by many readers on this site, but I am glad Title II is being rescinded.

Now, before you attack me, please understand this isn’t because I’m “shilling” for the ISPs. Quite the contrary. I want better laws put into place to protect the internet, and I feel Title II isn’t good enough to do so.

Let me preface by saying Title II can offer protections, but they’re largely pointless because of the gaping holes the Title doesn’t cover. Let’s review them, if you don’t mind.

1) Zero Rating – this is blatantly anti-consumer if I ever saw it. Businesses with the resources can easily pay the gatekeeper (and remember, there’s more than one) to allow their content to be streamed without cap consequences to the user.

Title II doesn’t not prevent caps.

2) Paid Prioritization – in conjunction with the above, this is also anti-consumer. Businesses with the means can easily circumvent any restrictions of their content, which by default, would limit everyone else. While our broadband infrastructure is decent, it’s not unlimited.

Multiple times, it’s been shown the US infrastructure is designed wholly for blocking access across the nation. When compared to other countries, our broadband sucks.

Unfortunately, we’ve gotten used to what’s offered to us because of the lack of competition. If the infrastructure is designed to be limited, then throttling is inevitable when companies pay for prioritization.

Title II doesn’t not prevent paid prioritization nor does it govern a requirement to broaden the infrastructure.

3) The other Titles can dictate Title II. People often refer to Title II being the “savior” of the internet, but this simply isn’t true.

There are a total of 7 titles under the Communications Act and each on can affect another title.

It’s been said the internet is a communication platform, and this is true. But it’s *also* a distribution and broadcast platform, which means other Titles can be applied to it (the cable industry has long used this tactic to push the right title toward their goals).

The “fight” ISPs are having right now is an incredible ruse against the public and politicians who just don’t care. The “rescinding” of Title II doesn’t affect them one way or another, because they can always fall back on the other titles to continue their anti-consumer practices.

This is why many people, who still have cable and internet, are being itemized two charges despite data traveling identically across the platform.

Title II does not protect against other restrictions of titles on the books, which still apply to millions of people.

4) The biggest culprit: price gouging. We’re all aware of how ISPs have increased costs over the years, but Title II will not protect consumers against this. ISPs can, and will, continue to abuse the policies in place to ensure they can get away with price gouging until true laws are enacted to stifle this practice.

Title II doesn’t protect against price increases.

Pai may not be honest with the public when he speaks about our broadband infrastructure, but he is right to say Title II isn’t needed (though our reasons vastly differ).

What we need are new laws enacted to protect the *internet*” not regulations written at the turn of the 20th century and slightly updated over the years.

Think about this a second. Why allow regulations written at the turn of the *20th century* dictate a technology which didn’t exist then?

The most updated change came in 1996, and there’s good proof this *removal* of regulations lead to our internet of today.

Let the FCC revoke Title II, please! Instead, focus the attention on Congress to pass a newer, more accurate set of regulations to govern the *internet*, not an act drafted nearly 100 years ago.

If I had any belief Title II was helpful, I’d be alongside the crowds requesting its reinstatement.

But I don’t believe Title II is the correct option, and should it be reinstated, would prevent further legislation from being written as the title leaves the most egregious loopholes open for ISPs to continue abusing.

The definition of today’s “broadband” of 25/3Mbps is an appalling figure when compared to the rest of the world offering more at a cheaper price.

Title II doesn’t change this either, just to add.

Backing away from changing the definition shouldn’t be the focus in this situation.

Failing to update the definition to increase the current limits should be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Let the FCC revoke Title II, please! Instead, focus the attention on Congress to pass a newer, more accurate set of regulations to govern the internet, not an act drafted nearly 100 years ago.

That’s reasonable enough, and probably why Mike was initially against Title II. People warmed to the idea because it looked like the most politically practical solution.

It’ll be funny if Pai’s actions here end up effecting stronger legislation, something like the telephone regulations in their "strict" period with price controls etc. Or there’s the "simple" plan: say an ISP can’t own wired or wireless infrastructure, and an infrastucture provider can’t do anything at the IP level. Most of our problems are in the "last mile"—eject Comcast and AT&T from there, and see how well they compete as "ISPs only" (having to lease the wire/towers from someone else) when there are many others. Some areas had hundreds in the dialup days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“You seem to be suggesting that because the Title II regulations Wheeler instituted were imperfect,”

imperfect? no they were corrupt.

I know you are too stupid to understand a few things Thad, but this is all a ploy. The ISP are smart, unlike you, they are smart enough to know that Wheeler vision allows for them to game the system so they know fighting it is a good way to get these rules set as the standard. They get to keep their monopolies, they get to keep zero rating, and they get to trick idiots like YOU into thinking you have a solid win if you get the rules put back in. And when people like you win, you get tired and lose the will to fight much further.

You are ignorant, stupid, and easily played against yourself.

You are going to lose the fight whether you get NN or not. You are still going to be throttled, you are still going to be Capped, and you are still going to be gouged. NN saves you from non of that.

O yea, you are still going to be spied on and tracked too!

Enjoy your empty win, I hope you get it… because I will back here again next year reminding you all about it when people start bitching about how NN is failing them after they fought so hard to get it back!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And here you are again, helpfully telling people how wrong they are, and how right you are, without a single proposal as to how the problem can be solved. You will have nobody but yourself to blame if your prediction come true, because you are doing nothing to help prevent them happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“And here you are again, helpfully telling people how wrong they are, and how right you are, without a single proposal as to how the problem can be solved.”

Oh look idiot liar #1337 has shown up to spew more bullshit, not a shocker there.

If you look at a previous post I made in this article you would have noticed the part where I said I wanted to destroy the regulation empowering the monopolies. Sure, that statement requires more intelligence to understand that an idiot like you can muster but so be it. It still gives more than enough information about what type of solution I would bring despite your constant claims I offered none.

Additionally, the problem here is not who has the best solution, we have a problem where people like you are ignorantly playing ball for the wrong team without knowing it. I need to get you folks to stop ignorantly playing on the ISP monopoly team before we can get much farther.

And it’s not really like I am pulling a rabbit out of my hat when I call a group of idiots what they are. You are sorta making that part really easy for me.

My predictions always come true because they are stupid easy to guess. I barely takes any intelligence to figure this shit out. You are smart enough to do it yourself, well… just as soon as you wash yourself clean of your political religion. People are not very fond of taking that shower, it sort of works against the human nature to form up groups for safety and security soon followed by the believe that they have 100% of the solution to every problem.

I don’t have the solution to every problem, because no fucking such thing is possible. I just have the best ways to mitigate and deal with problems and often times they require people like you to sober up.

Let me sum up the difference between people like you and people like me.

You think you can cure everything and that a utopia is possible through government regulation.

I just know better than to believe that fantasy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If you look at a previous post I made in this article you would have noticed the part where I said I wanted to destroy the regulation empowering the monopolies.

Yes, you keep on screaming that regulation need to be destroyed, and that people who do not agree with you are fools. That is not the way to solve any problem, at least not unless you can use force to impose your views on others. Most people recognize that some regulations are necessary, so put forward some regulation that will solve the problems. Hint, a free for all in installing infrastructure is not a solution, as duplicating the infrastructure in a completive fashion is wasteful, and mainly results in a good service int ares where people can pay more for a service, and so make the competition economically viable.

Regulating the infrastructure as a shared resource available to all service providers does make sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What is the FCC is doing here is throwing out the baby with the bath water. Title two was use by Wheeler because they ISPs were playing and games, and it gave him the power to do something about those games, and he was keeping an eye on zero rating to see whether it was being abused. Now the FCC is totally washing its hands of ISP conduct, which makes matter worse that they were before title II was reinvoked to cover ISPs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Problem is that “good legislation” is not something you rush. It takes time to get there. Title II was never a good solution for NN. Just the least bad given the situation.

If there was a real wish for getting something better than Title II, congress would have made another legislative framework that encompas it, while Title II was still in place…

By removing Title II regulations first, you are not trying to make anythng that is better than Title II. You are just incentivising people with lobbyist wishlist legislations in the drawer, like Marsha Blackburn, to push a bandage and for others to accept the crap since it is litterally “better than nothing”, AKA. The alternative. Marsha Blackburns past makes ane “solution” she may come up with smell like it was bought to hell and back by telcos…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The good solution to the ISP problem is well known, and used by many countries. You legislate that the Infrastructure provider must allow ISPS to use their infrastructure at a reasonable charge. This is better than the alternative of having duplicate infrastructures. The duopoly of cable and phone in urban areas is an accident of history, an era where phone and cable used incompatible technologies. Now there is fiber for fixed networks, and wireless for mobile uses; but they are not really competitive, due to the capacity limits of radio systems, but rather serve different needs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There has been several polls on the issue: Nobody wants a governing entity to decide what a “reasonable charge” is. That is price regulation, “heavy regulation” etc. I am actually surprised at how many americans support “light touch legislation” on the issue.

While I don’t disagree that state owned infrastructure is a lot better than the current system, transitioning to such a solution is almost impossible given the disdain people have for deep government control. Incentivizing spin-off of the infrastructure and infrastructure development parts would make it a lot easier to regulate targeted, so as to avoid the current ISP-crying and you could probably do that in a way most people see as “light touch”, but alas…

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re:

While it appears you are misinformed about how the Title II designation was used (and specifically not used), you agree that there are lot of problems with the structure of ISP business and deployment. I understand your inclination for a legislative solution. As a libertarian, I’m not a fan of unaccountable bureaucracies.
However, with the fast pace of technology, whatever rules we have, they must be agile and adaptable. Congress moves at glacial pace, they have been generally hands-off in the net neutrality issue, up until this year when they used the much easier and less politically consequential congressional review process to strip privacy protections. Whatever legislation we eventually get, good or bad, will basically be permanent, regardless of how the world of internet service changes. Seems to me that congress would better serve the people by ensuring we have a transparent agency, that is responsive to the public and the fast paced nature of the industry, instead of trying to write legislation about technology they don’t understand (Things like “a series of tubes”, “a neighborhood bridge” and “Obamacare for the internet” come to mind).
The other issue with a legislative fix, that even though congress should be more accountable to the voter, corporate interests have far more sway. Considering we have been trying to get legislation for Dreamers for 17 years, but got tax reform in a couple of months; tax reform that that the telecoms and cable companies teamed up with their unions to make a very public agreement to give raises and bonuses to workers if the tax reform went through. I’m not criticizing the tax policy, but it’s a clear demonstration that net neutrality legislation would bend to the telecom and cable company favor.
Lastly, we ended up in this duopoly/oligopoly situation due to legislation from congress, laws that were enacted 30 to 100 years ago. The FCC has a more flexible structure that could be better utilized. It just needs to have it’s powers checked.

ECA (profile) says:

IN all of this..

What is happening..

A corp is taking over a company that took over a company, that Took over a Company that INSTALLED HARDWARE 40+ years ago..
Telephone poles, and infrastructure for installation, that has been around and REPLACED, after it was damaged..hardly ever..(they belong to the city)
They DONT want to fix/replace/upgrade anything…they just want to SIT and take the cash..

WHY? BECAUSE INSTALLING A NEW SYSTEM AROUND A METRO AREA IS EXPENSIVE.. Even after Our Gov. has PAID FOR most of it.(yep, we paid twice over the last 17 years)

NOW! Why do they want to include the Wireless ssytem as PART of the old/updated system.. BECAUSE setting up wireless would save money.. But its stupid to think WIRELESS, is better then HARDWIRED, PROTECTED SYSTEM..
This system is the Phone/Cable/Sat/Emergency/Internet System..

NOTHING in this nation has Every been Improved/upgraded/advanced UNLESS the gov. PAID for it to be done..
WE had to create the park system to keep Corps from Bull dozing ALL the land in this nation.
WE paid for the intercontinental rail system..
WE paid the corps to install POWER and phone systems into the RURAL AREAS..They didnt want to do it, as there was/is no profit in it..
Without the Gov. FORCING corps to do ANYTHING, we would be back in the 1800’s..And the Mississippi would be the Separation line..

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