FCC: 'Broadband' Is Scarce

By the end of 2009, the majority of US Internet connections were slower than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's latest definition of broadband, which was bumped up this summer to 4 Mbit/s downstream and 1 Mbit/s upstream. (See FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s .)

The FCC, which released its latest Internet access services status report (PDF) on Thursday, found that 68 percent of 90.96 million "reportable" Internet access connections fell short of its speed benchmark in both directions, or in one direction.

On the mobile front, the FCC said the number of wireless subs with devices and data plans for "full Internet access" jumped by 48 percent, to 52 million.

Why this matters
The FCC issues this report twice a year, but it's taking on greater importance lately as the Commission pursues its far-reaching National Broadband Plan. As part of a longer-term vision, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has introduced a "100 Squared" initiative that aims to deliver 100Mbit/s services to 100 million households. (See FCC Chair Sets 2020 Broadband Vision .)

The report is also emerging as the FCC looks to reestablish its authority on broadband by trying to codify a new set of network neutrality rules.

Free Press wasted little time to blast the report, calling the analysis "highly flawed and misleading" because it "grossly overstates the level of broadband competition." It wants the FCC to use new data that would allow it to establish the market's overall competitiveness by studying the relationship between market concentration and broadband quality, price, and adoption.

For more
For more on the FCC's broadband-focused regulatory efforts, please see:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:16:08 PM
re: FCC: 'Broadband' Is Scarce

Thanks for those great comments.  It would be more fair, as you said, to note that the report does base its data on subsribership levels versus availability... so someone who takes a low end lite tier, for example, would probably not be anywhere near the reach the FCC's broadband speed benchmarks.  But even the FCC is making comparisons between the statement it made in July with the data that's represents the end of 2010.  So, we are likely still a year away before we can make a true comparison that ties the FCC's collected data to the most recent benchmarks.

Also, the speeds referenced are also based on advertised speeds, right? So there's lots of wiggle room given there. JB

rbgessner 12/5/2012 | 4:16:08 PM
re: FCC: 'Broadband' Is Scarce

In this discussion of broadband speeds, it is important to understand that there is no standard definition of what constitutes “broadband service”:  The statement that the FCC has redefined broadband internet as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up is not accurate. 

At the outset, it is important to note that your article compares data collected as of 12/31/2009 with an FCC statement released in July of 2010.  It seems patently unfair to criticize service providers for failing to meet a benchmark (not a standard) that did not exist at the time the data was collected.  The FCC’s Sixth Report and Order, like the National Broadband Plan, does not deal with the present.  Rather, it encourages actions aimed at the future.  That is precisely what the 4 down/1 up benchmark creates; a goal for the future.  Broadband service providers are already responding to this benchmark.  Truth be known, they were working toward it long before the Sixth Report and Order.  The FCC did not need to use its bully pulpit.  The competitive market forces were already encouraging faster speeds.

There are at least four different definitions of what constitutes broadband internet. 
1.    Section 706 of the Communications Act defines broadband internet as a service which enables users "to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications.”
2.    The instructions to FCC Form 477 (Local Telephone Competition and Broadband Reporting) define broadband at II A. as “information transfer rates exceeding 200 kbps in at least one direction.”
3.    The January 22, 2010 Broadband Stimulus Notice defines broadband as…“providing two-way data transmission with advertised speeds of at least 768 kilobits per second (kbps) downstream and at least 200 kbps upstream to end users, or providing sufficient capacity in a Middle Mile project to support the provision of broadband service to end users.”
4.    Even the public notice that included the 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up statement does not define broadband as such.  The FCC’s Sixth Broadband Deployment Report to Congress, 50 CR 1402 (20 July 2010) only changed the bench mark for what it hopes to achieve in the way of broadband access to homes in the future. 

Furthermore, this report clearly states at the outset (paragraph 3, page 1) that it is based on the speeds to which users subscribe, not the speeds that are available.  Speeds far in excess of the FCC’s hopeful speeds of 4 down and 1 up are available in many areas.  Most consumers simply choose not to subscribe to them.

The simple fact of that matter is that most consumers prefer a lower-priced, lower-speed service because it fits their needs and budget.  Power users, many of whom probably read Light Reading, always want more bandwidth but are usually unwilling to pay for it.  Instead, they seek to raise everyone’s speed even though most users don’t need or want it and certainly don’t want to pay more for something they won’t use.  Recent FCC statements regarding the propriety of non-discriminatory network management policies and tiered/usage based billing should make it much easier for both types of users (small and power) to have what they desire and pay for what they receive.

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