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
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.