FCC To Raise Minimum Broadband Definition To 25 Mbps, Further Highlighting Nation's Pathetic Lack Of Broadband Competition

from the let's-stop-playing-make-believe dept

Over the last few months FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been making the rounds highlighting the fact that while U.S. broadband competition is fairly pathetic by any standard, it's particularly pathetic when it comes to faster speeds. At speeds of 25 Mbps downstream, for example, nearly two-thirds of the country lack the choice of more than one broadband provider. That's obviously (to most of us) thanks to a lack of competition, and as I've noted recently that's only going to get worse as phone companies accelerate their abandonment of DSL networks they don't want to upgrade, leaving cable companies with a stronger monopoly than ever before.

While the FCC historically has paid empty lip service to broadband competition, they're at least taking a positive step lately in trying to push the minimum acceptable broadband definition to 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. Carriers have unsurprisingly been crying a lot about this, given it will only further highlight the fact they're a bunch of pampered, lumbering duopolists extracting their pound of flesh from a captive audience in a broken market.

To his credit FCC boss Tom Wheeler has been ignoring these tantrums, and this week began circulating a study highlighting how the carriers have failed to deploy faster next-generation speeds in a "timely fashion" -- a report Congress mandates the FCC to provide annually. While there's a total lack of competition at speeds above 25 Mbps, the report notes there's many, many locations that simply can't get 25 Mbps at all. Despite the tech press and industry's bubbly obsession with 1 Gbps speeds (much of which is just empty fiber to the press release designed to give the illusion of competition), we're really not making particularly impressive progress for a nation that likes to prattle on a lot about how it's "#1" at a lot of things.

The study found that around 17 percent of American households (or about 22 million) lack access to speeds of 25 Mbps, which jumps to 53% (or about 55 million) when focusing on rural markets. Rural areas in particular continue to be under-served at most speeds, with 20% lacking access to speeds of even 4 Mbps and 31% lacking access to speeds of 6 Mbps. Those marks improved just 1% and 4% respectively over the last three years, despite more than a little lip service (and more than a few subsidies) paid toward shoring up the country's coverage gaps. The FCC notes things get even worse on tribal lands, where 63 percent lack access to 25 Mbps.

And while you might be saying to yourself that a lack of broadband in rural markets isn't all that surprising ("well move" is a common refrain on some fronts), the FCC's findings come on the heels of a similar Commerce Department report highlighting that competition is virtually nonexistent at anything beyond 10 Mbps, no matter where you live. Of course while the FCC's data highlights the pathetic lack of competition, the report doesn't specifically discuss how to fix it, nor does the higher-standard actually have to be met. Raising the bar above ankle height does, however, have an impact on the policy conversation:
"The proposed 25/3 definition of broadband doesn’t actually require ISPs to adopt that speed. But using the 25/3 definition for broadband will affect how the FCC reports on whether ISPs are offering Americans service that’s fast enough. Despite the 25/3 standard not being a requirement for government-funded projects, about four dozen rural broadband experiments funded by the FCC will offer at least 25/3, a senior FCC official told Ars."
In other words, by having a more reasonable definition of broadband we can at least foster a more honest conversation about the telecom sector's problems, elevating us above the inane arguments by ISP lobbyists, some blanket anti-regulatory groups, astroturfers and hired think tankers who'll all have you believe we're living in a competitive broadband wonderland -- but just hadn't noticed it yet. The fact that ISPs are failing to make reasonable progress at offering a better product also gives the FCC additional ammo as it heads into what will be a protracted legal battle over new network neutrality rules. The first step to recovery is, of course, admitting you have a problem.

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  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 3:47pm

    The obvious question this raises...

    What are we going to call the crap we got?

    Narrowband? Slimband? Weakband? Beyond Dialup?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 3:53pm

    It is no accident that the US customers pay higher rates for poorer service as well as speeds. Until this monopoly is broken and these major telcos are forced to live up to the deals they made for the federal money they have already received to improve such.

    Why would anyone in their right mind approve of the Comcast/Time-Warner merger considering the absolute farce that customer service is among these telcos? They aren't even trying to make it look like a mistake.

    Add to this the business with Netflix, where paying customers have their services they have already paid for degraded just so the telcos can make a point of 'nice business you have here, wouldn't want anything to happen to it would you?'. It was nothing less than corporate blackmail in which the customer will wind up paying the bill on for no better service other than what they had to begin with.

    The damn shame in this is that there are no teeth in the definition to encourage a breaking of this monopoly. More and more I am of the opinion that it is once again time to break up these major corporations into something that could at least resemble competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 13 Jan 2015 @ 4:18pm

      Re:

      The REAL solution, which would have been a no-brainer in the old days, is to break Comcast and Time Warner into 2 companies each both of which can use the existing lines.

      Then we will see real competition like we did when Ma Bell got broken up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 6:49pm

      Re:

      Why would anyone in their right mind approve of the Comcast/Time-Warner merger considering the absolute farce that customer service is among these telcos? They aren't even trying to make it look like a mistake.

      "You do this little thing for me, and when you 'retire', you'll have a lucrative job where you can sit back and rake in the millions for the rest of your life waiting for you."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 4:03pm

    Still Bullshit numbers game...

    I think we need to also take a step back and realize the difference between offering and actually giving 25Mbps. If I have a neighborhood of say 40 houses, probably pretty small for a residential community, that's a Gigabit back-haul for just those 40 connections. I know because I'm in the business that the whole town where I live is fed with a OC12 or 622Mbps to back-haul a lot more than just 40 connections on Verizon FiOS. Now I know and most in the business know, this is how it works. If you really wanted 25Mbps, expect to pay a grand or more, unless you are in a lit fiber metropolitan building, IE at an IXP you can get it for much cheaper...
    My point stop is to throwing bullshit numbers and get serious about what you offer. Google might be selling 1Gbps connections, and than back-hauling on a 10Gbps line, but not everyone can use it. That's just life even in other countries that I've worked with...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 13 Jan 2015 @ 4:20pm

      Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

      I don't know what they do, but I can tell you that I get 113 Mbps 90+% of the time on Time Warner. I don't know who I share it with or how, but I have even received 90 Mbps+ from download sites, so I know it's not just to SpeedTest or something.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

      Then there's the ATM network side. Sure, there was an OC12 fiber run to the DSLAM. But the network side of the switch routed 575 DSL customers (sold up to 7Mbps connections) over... a...

      ...45Mbps T3. (For the mathematically-challenged, that's a whopping 78Kbps per customer when they all came home in the evening and tried to download YT videos at once.)

      I kid you not. The contract fine print only specified the customer would see [insert arbitrary number up to 7] on the local loop. Network, not so much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 5:21pm

        Re: Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

        Back in the day, I had over a hundred DSL connections running on 3 bonded T1s... That was criminal to say the least since we could sell 3Mbps/768Kbps to them all at a wonderful back-haul of 4.5Mbps minus of course overhead of PPPoE, ATM encapsulation, et al...
        This is the world that ISPs operate and people just don't understand the difference. I'm sort of glad to be out of it and running a real network now...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bengie, 13 Jan 2015 @ 6:54pm

      Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

      The entire internet is that way. unless you actually lease your own fiber or a lambda on someone else's network, all switched routes on the Internet are over-subscribed.

      Over-subscribed does not mean congested.

      Power companies are vastly over-subscribed in that if every customer turned on every device in their house at the same time, it would take down any power plant, yet it rarely happens.

      An ISP may sell 10tb of connections, but their peak bandwidth is only 50gb/s, then 100gb of trunk will be plenty.

      If every Netflix customer used Netflix at the same time, they would need nearly 700tb/s of bandwidth, yet they get by with well under 10tb/s, and their servers have bandwidth to spare.

      People are self limiting because they can only consume so much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 7:42pm

        Re: Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

        I totally agree that every link is usually the cost of averages, but where does it state that 50%, 60% or even 80%, which I think is usually oh shit land, is the standard by which ISPs must upgrade. Some areas in the US are way oversubscribed, but due to the lack of competition this has lead to a reality that customers don't know the difference.
        The self limiting features are usually dealing with SOHO hardware and the amount of devices, so as customers upgrade to newer hardware with better ASIC processors and less buffer bloat as well as more devices such as tablets, phones, and public access points this will only increase the problems for end-users. IE 10 people using your WiFi connection on Xfinity with 4K video on the public access point. (A quick google says that's about 6-12Mbps per stream.) How long before this will last say at a local Starbucks in your neighborhood? Now imagine it's a rural area?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 8:00pm

        Re: Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

        "Over-subscribed does not NECESSARILY mean congested."

        FIFY

        The power gen analogy doesn't really work here. A congested ATM network doesn't crash just because it's congested. But 575 customers configured for a minimum of 1.5M service to as much as 7M routed over a single T3 IS congested. No, the network doesn't crash. But the first few on with their 7M streaming videos burst, and everyone else's packets get discarded. Everyone else times out before they even reach the edge router.

        I didn't pull that example out of... thin air. I saw it, when troubleshooting dozens of simultaneous customer complaints of "can't get on Internet". It wasn't the only example, either; just the most extreme I personally worked at that company.

        Even b/e/t/t/e/r/ worse was the T1 interswitch admin channel that some effin' moron provisioned a couple of hundred DSL customers to. (And why the hell that admin channel even showed up as provisionable... -shudder-)

        I'm rather happy out of the telecom field now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 9:12pm

          Re: Re: Re: Still Bullshit numbers game...

          You can QoS a DSLAM, so that it's not FIFO but same logic applies ;)
          Why your management network was provisionable, well that's something that I've never had to deal with at least.
          In my world we either had to supply a DSLAM and assign VCs or purchased through ILECs and were assigned them in some sort of order at least.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 4:28pm

    This is a positive development, but it still doesn't address the problem with accurate counting.

    I previously lived in a city where I was 'well served', nominally counted as having three broadband options.

    Wireless, but I was on the wrong side of the apartment building to get high speed. And it would have been prohibitively expensive (how fast can you use your 4G data allotment at the maximum rate of "approaching 50Mbps"?).

    FiOS, except the whole apartment complex (dozens of buildings, many hundreds of apartments) was wired with old copper pairs with no hope of upgrade. You could get a good pair and get 1.5Mbps, but some were limited to 768Kbps.

    And Comcast cable, which could hit high speeds but slowed to a crawl during the evening since the bandwidth was shared with so many users.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 15 Jan 2015 @ 5:37pm

      Re:


      FiOS, except the whole apartment complex (dozens of buildings, many hundreds of apartments) was wired with old copper pairs with no hope of upgrade.


      I thought FiOS was fiber optic the whole way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 4:48pm

    Rural?

    I wouldn't call where I live rural (35,000 permanent residents, and a quarter million passing through), but I only get 1.5 Mbps down via DSL from CenturyLink, and the highest offered is 5 Mbps down (not available to me despite being available across the street). The cable company here doesn't do internet at all, and is only available in a small area of town. There's one wireless service that offers 12 Mbps down. And that's the some total of "broadband" here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 6:56pm

      Re: Rural?

      Century Link here , If you turn your PC on and off 5x that = 5 Have fun and enjoy your blazing internet speed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      stuart, 13 Jan 2015 @ 8:03pm

      Re: Rural?

      yes; I have the same issue too. I only get 1.5 mb/s.
      and I reside inside a major US city, Oklahoma City

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tom (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 9:16am

        Re: Re: Rural?

        Another central OKC resident. AT&T keeps sending "Please upgrade to U-Verse" stuff. When I checked a couple of months ago, the best U-Verse they could offer was the same 3Mb service I currently get via standard DSL. Not even enough to run their much advertised VOIP phone offering.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 15 Jan 2015 @ 5:38pm

      Re: Rural?

      And that's the some total of "broadband" here.

      Actually it's the sum total. :-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DCL, 13 Jan 2015 @ 5:55pm

    Tiered approach

    To me a tiered definition would be well served and be more future proof.

    Minimum Average (not peak) thresholds down/up in Megabits:
    Tier 1= 10/2
    Tier 2= 20/3
    Tier 3= 30/4
    Tier 4= 50/5
    etc

    To me 10mbs/2mb is the lower limit to current broadband but I don't want to see that as the only definition. I come to this conclusion as I lived though the early dial-up days and currently 10/2 serves my family of 3 and 15 devices well enough. My mother in-law has 2/1 and that just sucks for everything!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 14 Jan 2015 @ 11:36am

      Re: Tiered approach

      That's an interesting point that never makes the statistics, but should be part of any definition of broadband - how many people share a connection. I share a 1.5/.5 Mbps up/down connection with my brother. So in effect, I ACTUALLY only have a .75/.25 connection. Any definition should be PER PERSON given equal sharing of a connection.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    NoneOne, 13 Jan 2015 @ 6:35pm

    Broadband?

    If the new definition of broadband is 25mb down and 3mb up my ISP has some explaining to do. I'm at 15mb down and 1.5 up right now, if I want more my bill goes way up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2015 @ 7:41pm

    The FCC can redefine broadband.
    The ISPs can redefine 25Mbps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 13 Jan 2015 @ 10:19pm

    Back to the relevant question here: how accurate are the numbers?

    How many households are considered "served", yet cannot actually get broadband service for just a basic connection fee?

    How many are considered "competitively served" yet actually have only a single (or no) provider?

    If you can get broadband, but don't want to pay a modest amount extra for a higher speed, you are served. If you have to pay $25K to establish service (the number a friend was quoted), your household is not served.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Socrates, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:01am

    Two 1 Gb/s full duplex interfaces for free

    Each student flat at the university i attended have two 1 Gb/s full duplex interfaces, backed by a massive up-link, for free. Though it were built and run by the University itself, and not some commercial enterprise. After that most commercial offerings seams to be lacking, but at least it is not as bad as in USA.

    Some might hope Google will make a change, but even Google search is tainted by the monopolists. Google bends over. Google is fickle!

    If functional democracy is restored in USA, perhaps municipality driven ISPs would help? (Though, then it might not even be necessary ...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2015 @ 5:51am

    how any country can allow it's broadband companies to say that no one needs greater than 4mps for super fast broadband is disgraceful! how any government representatives can be allowed to create monopolies and totally remove competition in return for 'campaign contributions' (at best) and 'personal contributions' (at worst) is even more disgraceful! the USA is so far behind just about every other country in the world with broadband connections and personal speeds is unbelievable!! even now, the various broadband companies are not only doing their best to keep the monopolies and the speed down at 4mps rather than upping it to 25mps (which will cost those companies a pittance, if anything at all!), there are rumours that they, or at least one, is going to sue so as to be able to stay as it is! this behaviour is the same as has happened with \Hollywood and the entertainment industries. instead of bringing in new laws that force the industries to do what is needed to bring themselves up to speed, joining the digital age, the same politicians do the exact opposite and implement laws that enable the stifling of competition, that keeps the industries back in the pre-digital age and give them the ability and the right to sue anyone who is going against those laws! how absolutely fucking ridiculous is that? the idea of being elected by the people is to do what is best for the people in return, not shove them up the corner because mr Sony just dropped a few thousand dollars that fortunately fell right into the representatives pocket!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PedanticAhole, 14 Jan 2015 @ 8:42am

    interesting math ... Karl

    17 percent of Americans (or about 55 million) ... which jumps to 53% (or about 22 million)


    since when is 17% of something a larger number than 55% of the same thing ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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