FCC redefines 'broadband' -- to HOWLS of rage from ISPs and GOP

Wow. Is Tom Wheeler serious about promoting competition? Looks like it...

fcc broadband definition

How fast is 'advanced' broadband? Would it surprise you to learn that it's 4 Mbps? That's how the FCC classified the benchmark in 2010 (4 up, 1 down). But now, the Commission has revised it to 25 Mbps (and 3 up).

Cue: much wailing and gnashing of teeth from cable and fiber ISPs (and Republicans).

In the past, this column has been critical of Tom Wheeler's FCC for not promoting much-needed competition. However, this looks like a strategic move to do just that. Which is encouraging. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers feel the need -- the need for speed.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment.

The FCC did what? Gross! (Grant Gross, that is):

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has redefined advanced broadband as having 25Mbps download speeds, up from 4Mbps, giving the agency new authority to pass rules to encourage deployment. ... [It] also determined that this newly-defined advanced broadband wasn’t being rolled out in a timely manner. [This] has widespread implications for future broadband policy including the speed of broadband for deployment subsidies. [It] could also figure into the agency’s upcoming net neutrality vote.

The agency redefined advanced broadband over the objections of its two Republican commissioners—and [of] large broadband providers [who] have all filed comments in recent months questioning the need...to change [the] definition from 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. ... “The commission should conclude that broadband is being deployed throughout the United States in a reasonable and timely fashion,” Verizon’s lawyers wrote in September.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said...many broadband providers...tell customers they need to buy speeds of 25Mbps or more for common household use. ... “Somebody is telling us one thing and telling customers another.” ... 17 percent of the population have access to 25 Mbps broadband. About 53 percent of residents in rural areas don’t have access to those speeds. ... The gap in availability...closed by just 3 percent from 2012 to 2013, the FCC said.  MORE

What's it all about? Jon Brodkin 'splainerizes:

In FCC parlance, broadband is "advanced telecommunications capability" that "enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology." The FCC determines a minimum speed. ... This means a big portion of AT&T and Verizon subscribers...no longer have “broadband”.

AT&T has 16 million wired Internet subscribers...nearly 4 million [get] up to 6Mbps downstream under ideal conditions. ... The other 12 million AT&T customers get faster speeds, though not necessarily 25Mbps. [Even some] fiber-to-the-node tiers fall short of 25Mbps. ... Verizon had 9.2 million Internet customers at the end of 2014, of which about 6.6 million have FiOS. ... The rest would be on DSL. Verizon’s maximum DSL speed is 15Mbps.

Setting the broadband bar higher...serves to shame US providers and give the FCC more reason to take actions like preempting state laws that prevent cities and towns from building their own broadband networks. [It] will also help...Wheeler argue his case that there isn’t enough broadband competition.  MORE

Naturally, Karl Bode wishes the ISPs would just "stop whining":

For a few months now, the FCC has been hinting that it was preparing to raise the base definition. [So now] millions of you technically no longer have broadband [and] the number of unserved broadband households has jumped from around 6% to somewhere around 20%...largely thanks to the millions of users stuck on last-generation DSL. ... Not only do...AT&T and Verizon...not want to upgrade these DSL lines, they're paying for state laws that ensure nobody else can either.

As mandated by Congress, the FCC is required to ensure that broadband is being deployed in a "reasonable and timely" basis. [But] the lack of any competition at faster speeds is a pretty clear indication that's not happening. [Lobbyists are] trying to argue...the broadband industry is incredibly competitive. ... 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.

Just as it did when the FCC raised the definition from 200 kbps to 768 kbps in 2008, and again...to 4 mbps in 2010, the broadband industry is complaining that [this] simply isn't fair. ... But a standard of 25 Mbps...makes it harder than ever for the usual assortment of...apologists to continue hallucinating that the U.S. broadband market is fiercely competitive.  MORE

But Scott Shackford ain't joining the chorus of praise for the FCC. He's "making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity":

Barack Obama and the...FCC have been flogging continued federal involvement in the providing of private broadband Internet service. ... In order to flesh out the assertion that [we] can’t get decent broadband, the FCC has voted, 3-2, to simply change the definition...by regulatory fiat.

It’s like mission creep within mission creep. ... The Telecommunications Act of 1996 pushed the FCC into involvement in making sure broadband spreads across the country. As broadband improves, the FCC is going to make sure they get to keep their spoon in the stew.

[They're] just ordering innovation via regulation. [It] means broadband providers will be required by the FCC to improve [speeds] probably far beyond what many of their customers need. ... No wonder cable companies are upset.  MORE

So, the next is stop network neutrality? Kevin Quilty got his mojo back, baby: [Oh, behave -Ed.]

As Jay-Z once queried, “And this is with whom you want to place your faith?”

One watchdog agency has stated that the FCC “might as well be a subsidiary of Comcast, once you map out the [organizational] chart.” ... Wheeler, was the head of two major telecommunications lobbying groups. He...sends advance copies of speeches to the new head of...The National Cable Television Association (NCTA) [who] is Michael Powell...a former chairman of the FCC.

[It's] important that we do not simply pick the politically expedient solution when such a solution carries with it the seeds of its own destruction.  MORE

You have been reading IT Blogwatch by Richi Jennings, who curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites… so you don't have to. Catch the key commentary from around the Web every morning. Hatemail may be directed to @RiCHi or itbw@richi.uk. Opinions expressed may not represent those of Computerworld. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE.

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