Senators Blast The FCC For Weakening The Definition Of Broadband To Try And Hide The Industry's Lack Of Real Competition

from the set-the-bar-at-ankle-height dept

Back in 2015, the FCC raised the standard definition of broadband from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to an arguably-more-modern 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up. Of course the uncompetitive broadband industry (and the lawmakers who adore them) subsequently threw a collective hissy fit about the change, because they realized a higher bar would only highlight their failure to deliver next-generation broadband to vast swaths of America.

And highlight it did: by this new metric, two-thirds of the country lack access to real broadband from more than one ISP. We've explored repeatedly how this is due to a refusal by the nation's telcos to upgrade lagging DSL connections, leaving cable companies with a growing broadband monopoly across huge swaths of the country. With this reduction in competition comes a growing apathy to customer service, as well as the ability to impose new unnecessary and arbitrary usage caps (read: price hikes) without any competitive reaction by the broken market.

Normally, this is where regulators would step in with policies aimed at shoring up this lack of competition. Under the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required by law to track broadband deployment and competition and -- if things aren't up to snuff -- "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 admit there's a problem, or do anything about it.

With industry-ally Ajit Pai now in charge of the FCC, the telecom industry has been lobbying to weaken the standard definition of broadband to help mask the sector's shortcomings. As if on demand, a new FCC proposal would lower the definition of broadband by declaring a region covered if it has access to wireless data connections at speeds of 10 Mbps. The goal: lower the goalposts for the express benefit of lazy telecom duopolies. Duopolies that talk a good game about "closing the digital divide," but refuse to upgrade huge swaths of their networks (espcially the parts where disadvantaged and poor people live) -- and lobby for protectionist state laws ensuring nobody else can, either.

Of course the FCC isn't framing their decision as the industry-coddling myopia it is, instead declaring this a "modernization" of FCC policy, in some instances fooling media outlets into thinking this is about "reclassying wireless broadband" for some ambiguously noble policy purpose. But a handful of Senators this week criticized the FCC's new plan, highlighting (correctly) how lowering the broadband deployment bar to ankle height is a disservice to those waiting for, or trying to deploy, better broadband:

"At this time, such a striking change in policy would significantly and disproportionately disadvantage Americans in rural, tribal, and low-income communities across the nation, whose livelihoods depend on a reliable and affordable broadband connection... In reading this notice of inquiry, it appears that the FCC, by declaring mobile service of 10Mbps download/1Mbps upload speeds sufficient, could conclude that Americans' broadband needs are being met—when in fact they are not. By redefining what it means to have access, the FCC could abandon further efforts to connect Americans, as under this definition, its statutory requirement would be fulfilled."

AT&T, Verizon and the current FCC will tell you that mobile broadband is a perfect substitution for quality fixed-line broadband. And while that might be true by 2030 or so, that's certainly not the case now. Wireless networks certainly can offer comparable speeds to lower-end fixed-line connections, but traditionally at much higher prices -- and often with notable restrictions on usage (more so with the looming death of net neutrality). So these Senators are also right in highlighting how wireless is far from being a suitable-replacement for fixed-line connectivity:

"We believe that mobile broadband service cannot adequately support the same functions as does fixed service currently and, therefore, cannot be a substitute at this time. A small business owner who wants to begin a new venture today would not be adequately supported by mobile-only service. Should the decision to change current policy be made with the technology currently available, it would signal a strong departure from the Commission's mission, while also implying that certain consumers must accept lower-quality connectivity."

Unfortunately, like net neutrality, the quest to erode basic deployment standards will somehow be framed as a "partisan" debate, causing many to lose the plot. And pandering to the Comcast status quo will be framed as some sort of heroic pledge to phony free market ideals none of the regulators or companies backing this effort actually believe in. But lowering the bar to obfuscate the fact U.S. broadband is an uncompetitive market rife with regulatory capture (especially on the state level) isn't some panacea, it's the kind of weak-kneed regulatory apathy that gave us the customer-service abomination we call Comcast in the first place.


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  1. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:05am

    Not only that

    impose new unnecessary and arbitrary usage caps (read: price hikes) without any competitive reaction by the broken market.

    Not just price hikes on bit delivery, there's motive beyond simple cash grabs. It's anti-competitive behavior in the otherwise competitive content industry, using the established broken market to further break other sectors.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:44am

    "the agency is mandated"

    A lot of things are mandated, but when you are the one with the power... you kinda get to choose which mandates you follow, including the ones not even mandated.

    This ends when "enough" of us get a clue and hold the correct set of people responsible.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:53am

    reclassying

    Try harder, chaps.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:06am

    Redefine and ignore the past

    This is exactly what happened with the metrics used to track the standard of Living in the US. They made tons of changes including changing the meal purchased from a steak dinner, to ground beef equivalent and still claim it is the same test. If you are looking at different numbers, you can't use it to compare to previous dates.

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:11am

    Textbook Regulatory Capture

    When the Cable companies say jump, Ajit Pai is already on the way back down.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:30am

    Re: Textbook Regulatory Capture

    ... to his knees?

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

  7. identicon
    David, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:34am

    Re: Textbook Regulatory Capture

    When the Cable companies say jump, they say it with the mouth of Ajit Pai. He is not the one doing the jumping.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:34am

    So now 10 Mbps wireless will be a drop in replacement for 25 Mbps wired. Mmmm OK, got it. I think that the wired providers might be pushing this since the wireless alternatives are more costly so they can ratchet up their prices.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:50am

    Re: Redefine and ignore the past

    The CPI for instance ... does not accurately reflect inflationary trends in the market, it is now the go to excuse for low to no raise.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 7:53am

    Funny how some can be placated by a change in the official definition of a word.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 8:21am

    I'm ok with this...with one caveat

    If they want to lower the barrier I'm ok with it, with one small caveat, it is required to be met at all times anywhere in their published coverage area. No excuse for network saturation, unexpected demand, dead spots, interference, etc. If I'm outside or in a building using normal construction practices (not created as a faraday cage for example) they need to deliver me 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up anytime I want. If they don't then the penalty should be significant (free service for 1 week every time I cannot achieve the published rate).

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 8:47am

    Re:

    Just another result of humanity's hypocrisy.

    Everyone loves using "redefined" words against others, but hate it when others use "redefined" words back.

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 9:10am

    Re: I'm ok with this...with one caveat

    "I'm ok with this."


    you do realize that they only read this part of your comment right?

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

  14. icon
    OldMetalHead (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 9:35am

    Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    "Unfortunately, like net neutrality, the quest for the basest of standards will somehow be framed as a "partisan" debate, causing many to lose the plot. And pandering to the Comcast status quo will be framed as some sort of heroic pledge to phony free market ideals none of the regulators or companies backing this effort actually believe in."

    It always pisses me off when people use Comcast as an example of why we the free market doesn't work and how we need more government regulation to protect consumers from the greedy capitalists. Comcast is actually an example of a corporate oligarchy colluding with bought and paid for politicians to protect themselves from free market competition.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re:

    One would think their time better spent discussing actual facts and data rather than arguing about definitions - but (shrug) what do I know.

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:10am

    Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    Sir, TD and most of its followers are anti-capitalists here and readily blame the free-market for the failures of their regulatory market.

    Like the public education system, their solution is to see what they are currently doing fail and asking to just do more of it! No change... just more of it!

    More money and government control focused on these business and less involvement and say in the economy from the citizens perspective.

    It never ceases to amaze me that after all history, people still ask for a politician to protect them from the very businesses the politicians are openly and publicly colluding with.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re:

    If you are not using the same definitions for things when having a discussion or debate then how can you expect to come to a mutually agreed up and understood resolution?

    "what do I know."

    indeed... what DO you know?

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re:

    better yet

    A person was hit by a vehicle.

    This is a fact.

    But the definition of a vehicle can mean anything from a tricycle to space shuttle.

    So when discussing the definition of "vehicle" in the context of what said person was hit by now becomes a critical part of the discussion... RIGHT?

    Or according to you... just need the facts, when facts can be damn misleading!

    It is beyond "damn clear" the definitions are important because they "refine" what is being discussed. Especially when the "facts" are involved.

    There are many ways to deceive people without lying or avoiding facts.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:30am

    I can't believe Cox hasn't been sued by 4K TV makers, Netflix, Sony, Microsoft, Valve etc. for the very noncompetitive data caps they've put on most of their customers. I was forced to either go with their new "unlimited" home data plan for an extra $50 a month (on top of my $80 a month 50 meg down internet) or go back to cable and cancel DTVNow. I opted to go back to cable so I might have enough data available for game downloads and Netflix.

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

  20. icon
    Oblate (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: I'm ok with this...with one caveat

    they only read this part of your comment right?

    Mostly because that's all that uploaded before they got sick of waiting...

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

  21. identicon
    David, 8 Sep 2017 @ 11:01am

    Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    Sir, TD and most of its followers are anti-capitalists here and readily blame the free-market for the failures of their regulatory market.

    Well, one vote per head rather than one vote per dollar is anti-capitalist. The political system is not supposed to be a market accessible to dollars. When it is, it is usually called "corruption".

    And the political system of the U.S.A. is quite more corruptible than a number of other political systems, and it's not exactly because its representatives would otherwise be in danger of starvation.

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

  22. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 11:34am

    I love how they proclaim their love for the free market, while doing everything to make sure it can't be.

    Imagine if they kept the higher numbers, slashed all of the anti-competitive bullshit they were paid to put in and consumers had real choice. I bet ya the uppity start-up who offered higher than the broadband definition for a lower price would get tons of customers & force competition that actually benefits consumers & not shareholders.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    "Well, one vote per head rather than one vote per dollar is anti-capitalist."

    I am not sure what you mean there. Capitalism is largely the principle of owning a business instead of the state owning them. Capitalism does not require free market to exist, however a free market does require capitalism to exist.

    "The political system is not supposed to be a market accessible to dollars. When it is, it is usually called "corruption"."

    Everything is accessible to dollars, including your life. I do agree that it is usually through corruption.

    "And the political system of the U.S.A. is quite more corruptible than a number of other political systems, and it's not exactly because its representatives would otherwise be in danger of starvation."

    That one is a hard statement to quantify. Whether it is more corruptible than not than others is NOT the objective of our government model. The objective is that our model allows for easy destruction of that corruption when the people are ready to see to its end.

    The end does require the people stop letting their partisan politics get the better of them and looking at the fruit of their politicians labors rather than the words coming out of their mouths and memberships.

    It is very hard for people to break away from their political parties because the first thing people do on the other side is make it clear they are are not welcoming to anyone else that does not think like them. And when you have throngs of people gunning for you because you don't think like them, then you are likely going to go to the first place the matches you the most and stand with them... even if you do not really believe in everything they say. but you sure are going to tow the line though... it is literally a survival instinct.

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

  24. icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 12:13pm

    I would LOVE to see AT&T, etc. try and defend playing WoW, or LoL, or Overwatch or HotS over wireless broadband. Hell it's been VERY well documented that Koreans are better at Starcraft competitions simply because they have better internet.

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

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 12:20pm

    Re:

    "I love how they proclaim their love for the free market, while doing everything to make sure it can't be."

    You are right, but it gets them what they need anyways.

    It is the exact same corrupt logic of saying that regulation will save people from "potential" monopolies, by "ensuring" monopolies through regulation.

    Both sides have been hugely conned and are now so far down the proverbial rabbit hole that they will not be coming back up.

    As a business, I would fight regulation in the public square to get you, as a voter, to unwittingly support me. Then behind closed doors, I will go to your representative and "buy" their favor and manipulate them into giving me the regulations I am "claiming to hate" so that I can protect my business against new startups. I will even think of ways to make these regulations "sound good" while they will just be good for me in outcome. I am more than willing to pay your politicians 1 million so that I can protect my other 50 million.

    Big Business does not actually like free-market either.

    Just like I can get you to give up your civil liberty under the guise of protecting you from a terrorist, I can get you to give up your economic liberty by claiming to protect you from meany businesses.

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

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 1:32pm

    Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    Yum yum more paint chips please.

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

  27. identicon
    philnc, 8 Sep 2017 @ 3:25pm

    The Big Lie

    "AT&T, Verizon and the current FCC will tell you that mobile broadband is a perfect substitution for quality fixed-line broadband. And while that might be true by 2030 or so..."

    That will NEVER be true. It's a bold-faced lie only convincing to the technologically ignorant and those whose living depends on them being convinced. Pai is either deceiving or self-deceived on the subject.

    If we're going to require market solutions here we have to ensure a competitive market, otherwise treat these monopoly incumbents as common carriers and force them to open up access to their infrastructure to competitors on an equal footing with their own business. Providing funding for the development of municipal and non-profit community-based broadband, as well as pre-empting local anti-competitive laws like those in force in North Carolina is another (and I think, preferable) option.

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There are many ways that good communicators can convey a thought, idea, desire ... etc. But instead - let's just use our more banal responses jumping around like chimps flinging feces upon each other --- sound like fun?

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

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "There are many ways to deceive people without lying or avoiding facts."

    Indeed

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    I think it is Mr. Anarchy himself - paying us a visit he is.

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 8:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    When you sling it first...

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

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 8:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    "One would think their time better spent discussing actual facts"

    In a separate thread higher up you typed that. Quick to disavow your own advice and sling ignorance and supposition eh?

    Hypocrisy is a nasty habit you should avoid dipping into.

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

  33. identicon
    michael, 9 Sep 2017 @ 1:13pm

    Re: The Big Lie

    I'd like to see some data on why it would never be true. Verizon already sells a 4G LTE plan that would work great for my home, if the data caps weren't ridiculously low.

    It would be faster than my current wired internet.

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

  34. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2017 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: The Big Lie

    >I'd like to see some data on why it would never be true.

    The signal from a radio transmitter spreads out, and for 4G, that beam will likely cover at least an 1/8 of a circle. That signal, and its corresponding signal from mobile devices, has to be shared between all mobile devices in its coverage area. Further services like 4G are planned on a cellular coverage structure, and the allocated bandwidth is divided into multiple channels, allocated to cells in a pattern that ensure at least on cell between re-uses of the same channel. Available capacity can be increased by reducing power, and reducing cell size.

    On the other hand, a single fiber has more bandwidth capability that the bandwidth allocated to mobile technology, further each fiber in a bundle can and does use the same frequencies.

    The ultimate capacity, for any given radio technology, would be a cell size the same as a dwelling, but to achieve that require running wire or fiber to every dwelling. Note that the fiber feed will almost certainly have a better data rate than the radio can deliver. Use a hardwired local network, and it then becomes possible to have even more data capacity by running two or more fiber into the dwelling.

    WiFi is useful for mobile device and laptops, but hardwired is better for static devices like media center and desktop machines.

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

  35. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Comcast Doesn't Like the Free Market

    Is that hypocrisy? - lol. That I think politicians could better spend their time ... and ... I think you are the guy who posts things leaning toward anarchy.

    I think you are stretching a bit in order to get your dig in there, but your blade is rather dull. Perhaps instead of being Mr. Anarchy, you are in fact the super hero Stretch! If so, can I have your autograph?

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

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    substance /s

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

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:22pm

    Re: Re: Textbook Regulatory Capture

    yes...and his elbows

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

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    That is no a fact, that is a statement. And is intended to deceit, as you acknowledged already.

    At around 9:15pm, a drunk person walking on the street not the sidewalk, was hit non-fatally by a Honda 1992 sports car which was not speeding and the drive not under the influence or any substance with no previous criminal charges. The victim suffered a broken leg.

    Now that looks more like a fact, not a ridiculous statement intended to deceit.

    But I agree with anyway, definitions are important so the actual conversation or debate gets focused, and deceitful talk gets minimized.

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

  39. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:34pm

    Re: Re: I'm ok with this...with one caveat

    BS.

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

  40. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:35pm

    Re: Re: I'm ok with this...with one caveat

    How do you know there is another part to his comment? looool.

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

  41. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 3:59pm

    Re: Re: The Big Lie

    Are you stupid or what? The article clearly states that some mobile speed may be as good as some fixed-line speed, but at a way higher price (thus in fact leaving millions without access).

    Yes, my 5G mobile AT&T connection at 4,000 dollars per month is better than my 60 USD, 20Mbps wifi.

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

  42. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 4:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: The Big Lie

    Even at same nominal and actual speeds, a fixed line service is still way more reliable than a mobile service and it has more features. You dumbasss.

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


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