Gigabit Cities

Wheeler Urges More Broadband Competition

Bemoaning the lack of good broadband choices for many Americans, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is calling on cable operators, telcos, FTTH providers and other ISPs to offer better, faster competitive options to US consumers ASAP.

Speaking at 1776, a start-up incubator in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Wheeler said too many US homes lack solid options for high-speed data service. He cited government stats indicating that nearly 75% of US homes lack access to more than one provider offering downstream speeds of at least 25 Mbit/s, which he said is "fast becoming table stakes in 21st century communications."

Likewise, at lower transmission speeds, Wheeler said, too many American households don't have effective broadband choices. In the 10Mbit/s downstream range, for instance, nearly 39% of homes have access to no more than a single Internet provider.

Further, Wheeler said, even when two good choices exist in a market, it's often difficult for consumers to switch broadband providers. He noted that those looking to switch often "face high switching costs that include early-termination fees and equipment rental fees," among other things.

As he has emphasized since the beginning of his term last year, Wheeler said the answer is greater, more effective competition. He noted that data speeds have usually increased only "when companies like Google Fiber bring new competition in the form of gigabit service to cities like Kansas City and Austin."

For ongoing updates on Gigabit Cities and the broadband competition debate, visit Light Reading's broadband/FTTx content channel.

Outlining his proposed "Agenda for Broadband Competition," Wheeler set forth four policy goals for the FCC to pursue under his leadership. First, he said, "where competition exists, the commission will protect it." He cited the agency's recent moves to block mergers of major wireless providers as a prime example of that policy.

Second, Wheeler stated, "where greater competition can exist, we will encourage it." He highlighted the commission's actions to reserve low-band broadcast spectrum for wireless providers and proceed with its Open Internet initiative as examples there.

Third, Wheeler said, "where meaningful competition is not available, the Commission will work to create it." He cited the agency's efforts to expand the amount of unlicensed spectrum and its consideration of petitions from two communities asking the FCC to preempt state laws banning "citizen-driven broadband expansion." (See The Municipal Menace?)

Fourth, the chairman declared, "where competition cannot be expected to exist, we must shoulder the responsibility of protecting the deployment of broadband." In particular, he stressed, "we cannot allow rural America to be behind the broadband curve." As a result, he said the Commission will continue to focus its universal service efforts on bringing broadband links to rural areas.

In his speech, Wheeler did not indicate what this new agenda might mean for the commission's review of the two major proposed industry mergers now before it -- namely, the ones between AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and between Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). But you can bet there will be plenty of buzzing about this in the nation's capital this weekend and beyond.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

mhhf1ve 9/8/2014 | 2:31:48 PM
Re: Buzzed off seven,

I don't think I ever said that incumbent telcos should be required to operate at a loss. I admit I'm not too sympathetic to some of the descendents of AT&T, but I'm not completely anti-business. I think there is a role for the govt to play in protecting the public's rights when it comes to national telecom infrastructure... perhaps you don't agree, but I think it would be a mistake to allow the "market" alone to determine every aspect of our critical telecom network.

just my two cents,

brooks7 9/6/2014 | 5:11:17 PM
Re: Buzzed off Rural America as part of the IOCs is ahead of the rest.  Rural America as part of the RBOCs is behind.


danielcawrey 9/6/2014 | 4:21:54 PM
Re: Buzzed off Rural America will always be behind the broadband curve. Even is service providers are required to build out to places with low population density, they still will not offer the same level of support and services that can be had in metropolitan areas. The numbers to do that will just not work. 
brooks7 9/5/2014 | 4:58:18 PM
Re: Buzzed off mhhf1ve,

Customers of all products pay for them.  Car Owners drilled the Oil Wells and built the refineries that Exxon owns.  Viewers and Ticket Buyers (and Advertisers) pay for the Dallas Cowboys.

From your post, you make it seem that the Telcos owe the customers an upgrade even if it means that they lose money.  Or that the MSOs (also monopolies at the same level telcos are) should do the same.  Maybe you should ask yourself this question: "Why do the Independent Operating Companies exist?"  If AT&T was actually granted a monopoly (and it was not), then where did the predecessors of CenturyLink come from?  They were NOT CLECs.


mhhf1ve 9/5/2014 | 3:42:38 PM
Re: Buzzed off

The willful ignorance regarding how networks were originally built is just astounding.

Heh. I'm not sure which side is more willfully ignorant. The telcos often "forget" that their copper lines were funded by ratepayers when it serves their purpose. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that others who have bought into their messaging now don't understand the history of the telco/cableco monopolies.

brooks7 9/5/2014 | 3:24:15 PM
Re: Buzzed off  

Agreed, and its this kind of stuff that makes me think that the FCC having a light hand may be what allowed the Internet to not get crushed out of the gate.

I have visited the FCC in many capacities - lobbying, testifying, answering questions.  I found the Commissioners to be politicians with agendas (mostly to further their careers) without exception.  I liked the Staff and felt sorry for them.  Especially the 3 or 4 actual Engineers who I might be able to have a real conversation with about why things are the way they are.

I also realize that we are only 1 bit of the FCC's purview.  Sucks to be them.


mendyk 9/5/2014 | 2:58:03 PM
Re: Buzzed off The willful ignorance regarding how networks were originally built is just astounding. The public telecom network and cable networks were constructed in a monopoly environment. To think that companies will be motivated to build out networks in a competitive environment with no guarantee of financial success is naive at best.
brooks7 9/5/2014 | 2:47:21 PM
Re: Buzzed off Dennis,

A politician supporting good over evil with no idea of how to make good triumph.  Oh My God!  

We either believe that there is money in the residential ISP business or we don't.  If there is money in it with some ROI, then folks will invest.  If not, they won't.  The telcos seem to have said that they have a limited appetite for investing.  Should tell us what their finance folks say.


mendyk 9/5/2014 | 2:22:51 PM
Buzzed off Mr. Wheeler has to know that private-sector companies can't be forced to provide competitive services. Any leverage that the federal government has to persuade companies to provide competitive services looks weak and limited. It's hard to figure out what he's trying to get at. It seems like a recitation of problems with no actual solutions.
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