For a few months now, the FCC has been hinting
that it was preparing to raise the base definition of broadband, and now it has officially made it happen. Voting 3-2 along party lines (because having goals is a partisan issue, you know), the agency declared that we're officially raising the standard definition of broadband from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up to 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up. That means, with the flip of a pdf announcement
(pdf), millions of you technically no longer have broadband. In fact, with the FCC's decision the number of unserved broadband households has jumped from around 6% to somewhere around 20%.
That's largely thanks to the millions of users stuck on last-generation DSL in markets where phone companies lack the competitive incentive to upgrade. Placing greater attention on cable's growing broadband monopoly
as AT&T and Verizon back away from unwanted DSL markets (to focus on wireless) was part of the agency's goal. Not only do these companies not want to upgrade these DSL lines, they're paying for state laws that ensure nobody else can either
. It's a paradigm that's needed smashing for most of the last decade, and few thought that Wheeler, a former cable and wireless lobbyist, was going to be the one to do it.
Wheeler's gathering ammunition as he heads into a contentious fight over net neutrality and municipal broadband next month
. As mandated by Congress, the FCC is required to ensure that broadband is being deployed in a "reasonable and timely" basis. As numerous studies the last few months
have shown, the lack of any competition at faster speeds is a pretty clear indication that's not happening. In fact, as the FCC has repeatedly noted, three quarters of homes lack the choice of more than one ISP at speeds of 25 Mbps or above. Despite all the hype about 1 Gbps, just 3% have access to such speeds.
Not too surprisingly, the FCC's moves have upset a broadband industry that's been perfectly happy with the standards bar being set at ankle height. Just as it did when the FCC raised the definition from 200 kbps to 768 kbps in 2008, and again from 786kbps to 4 mbps in 2010, the broadband industry is complaining that the latest definition simply isn't fair. The NCTA was quick to issue a statement
calling the 25 Mbps arbitrary and claiming it paints an "inaccurate" picture of the broadband market. TechFreedom similarly declared the FCC's bar raising to be the very worst sort of villainy:
TechFreedom has amusingly been making the rounds lately trying to argue that because DSL can, in some instances, be upgraded to VDSL
, that it somehow means the broadband industry is incredibly competitive. To make that point they're not only ignoring the distance constraints of DSL, but that AT&T and Verizon have actually been slashing their fixed-line CAPEX budgets like it's going out of style, in some cases willfully driving their unwanted DSL users to cable
with a one-two punch of apathy and price hikes. I like to believe I'm tolerant of a lot of arguments, but pretending the broadband industry is fiercely competitive isn't one of them.
Dissenting Republic Commissioners Ajit Pai (a former Verizon regulatory lawyer) and Mike O'Reilly were similarly outraged by the higher bar. In fact, it was O'Reilly that offered up the most convoluted, ridiculous defense of the status quo
"Taking his argument against changing the broadband standard into deep space, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said "the report notes that 4K TV requires 25Mbps, but 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come. While the statute directs us to look at advanced capability, this stretches the concept to an untenable extreme. Some people, for example, believe probably incorrectly that we are on a path to interplanetary teleportation. Should we include the estimated bandwidth for that as well?"
Right, because when drafting policy standards, who in their right mind would want them to be forward looking? If we have a feeble definition, like say oh, 1 Mbps with a 2 GB monthly cap, everyone technically has broadband and we can all go home and drink whiskey sours, thrilled with the false knowledge that the United States is a broadband powerhouse. But a standard of 25 Mbps? That makes it harder than ever for the usual assortment of status quo apologists to continue hallucinating that the U.S. broadband market is fiercely competitive.