In a speech on Thursday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler finally broke his silence on the state of American broadband, saying “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking” in the American market.
The nation’s top telecom regulator cited a lack of provider choices at higher speeds as an obstacle in the path of improving education, health care and the broader economy.
FCC standard for an Internet connection to be referred as broadband is possessing the speed of at least 4 Mbps, which, Wheeler says, is “yesterday’s broadband.”
Wheeler said, “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and Americans need more-competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections,” adding later that “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st century economics and democracy.”
Most people in America have the privilege of choosing between only two for broadband service — and when it comes to the speedy connections modern families need there’s “simply no competitive choice for most Americans.”
Wheeler referred 4 Mbps as a very slow connection. He noted that his agency is looking to elevate that metric to a minimum of 10 Mpbs. Even 10 Mbps “doesn’t fully capture the increasing demand for better wired broadband,” given that consumers increasingly use a number of devices at home that can “overwhelm” a connection of that speed.
Wheeler calls 25 Mbps connections “table stakes” in the current day. While more than 90 percent of Americans have access to at least one 4 Mbps provider, the percentage decreases if the speed increases to 25 Mbps, around one in five Americans lack a single provider.
Large communications companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications have been in a constant battle for a light regulatory touch from the FCC on all of these issues, saying there’s plenty of competition in both the wireless and wired broadband markets.
“Four megabits per second isn’t adequate when a single HD video delivered to home or classroom requires 5Mbps of capacity,” Wheeler said. “This is why we have proposed updating the broadband speed required for universal service support to 10Mbps.”
As per Wheeler’s new broadband competition agenda, the FCC will:
— Protect competition, including generally opposing merger efforts in the broadband industry. It is not sure what this means for Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable because the two companies are not in a direct competition for customers.
— Motivate and encourage more and more competition, including opening up new spectrum to mobile broadband and by pushing for net neutrality rules that ensure “the Internet remains free from barriers erected by last-mile providers,” Wheeler said.
— Work to create new competitors in place where “meaningful” competition is not available, he said. The FCC will push for more unlicensed wireless spectrum, and it is looking hard at state laws that prohibit or limit city-funded broadband networks, he said.