Broadband goals according to Wheeler

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler gave a speech this week in Washington entitled The Facts and Future of Broadband Competition. But it was more than facts and predictions: Wheeler also offered up a series of regulatory goals for any shortcoming in our broadband system.

First, he noted that we must “...recognize that meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections.”

Wheeler also stated that the FCC’s current broadband definition of 4 Mbps is “yesterday's broadband.” That's why the FCC “proposed updating the broadband speed required for universal service support to 10 Mbps.”

But he added that “even 10 Mbps doesn't fully capture the increasing demand for better wired broadband... A 25 Mbps connection is fast becoming ‘table stakes’ in 21st century communications.”

However, Wheeler pointed out a paradox, “... as bandwidth increases, competitive choice decreases.” At lower speeds there usually are choices, but, “Things only get worse as you move to 50 Mbps where 82 percent of consumers lack a choice.”

The answer, he said is simple in theory:

“In the end, at this moment, only fiber gives the local cable company a competitive run for its money. Once fiber is in place, its beauty is that throughput increases are largely a matter of upgrading the electronics at both ends, something that costs much less than laying new connections. While LTE and LTE-A offer new potential, consumers have yet to see how these technologies will be used to offer fixed wireless service.”

In fact, “Only fiber gives the local cable company a competitive run for its money.... Mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband, especially given mobile pricing levels and limited data allowances.”

To achieve national competition in high-speed broadband, Wheeler proposed four  goals:

•    First, where competition exists, the Commission will protect it.
•    Second, where greater competition can exist, we will encourage it.
•    Third, where meaningful competition is not available, the Commission will work to create it.
•    Fourth, where competition cannot be expected to exist, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting the deployment of broadband.

Wheeler believes that there are “... immutable values consumers have a right to expect from their network providers – such as access, interconnection, consumer protection, public safety and national security.”

And to achieve them requires the intervention of elected and appointed public representatives and a policy of encouragement and regulation.

“The Facts and Future of Broadband Competition” (Wheeler, FCC, Sep. 4, 2014)