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."
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