The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Broadband Fiction versus Fact

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Every year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to report to Congress the progress being made in deploying advanced communications services in the U.S. On January 29, 2016, the FCC released its latest review of broadband deployment in the U.S. On January 21, 2016, nine days prior to the release of the 2016 report, a letter was sent to the FCC from Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), that raised concerns with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that the broadband service benchmark being used by the FCC did not adequately capture what most Americans consider broadband, and that the definition for broadband contradicts the definition used by the FCC in its Open Internet Order and it’s Connect America Fund subsidy standards for rural America. The senators’ letter made the point that the FCC established its broadband standard of 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload in its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, which was released on February 4, 2015, less than two months after the FCC issued a report and order on the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II on December 11, 2014, which increased the minimum standards for broadband deployment by entities using funds from the CAF program to 10 Mbps download speeds and 1 Mbps for uploads. The FCC noted that this was necessary “to ensure that Connect America funding is used efficiently, to deploy broadband-capable networks to meet ever evolving consumer demand.” At the time of the December 2014 report and order, FCC Commissioner Pai noted that raising the speed benchmark to 10 Mbps was “the right call in my book,” although he expressed concerns that increasing the benchmark could roughly double the cost of deployment in rural areas of the country. However, following the 2015 progress report that raised the benchmark to 25/3, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly stated, “selecting an artificially high standard and applying it in a way that is impossible to achieve in order to reach all Americans, certainly in the near term, makes a mockery of a process that was supposed to provide an honest assessment of broadband deployment in the United States.” He further noted, “Unless four or more people are each streaming HD videos at the same time, which is neither the norm nor the analysis required by the statute, it’s hard to come up with a use case that warrants the 25/3 standard. Other activities, such as email, VoIP calls, and web browsing are simply not data intensive enough to approach this benchmark.” If the new standard is the “correct” standard, the FCC found in its 2016 report that 10 percent, or 34 million Americans, lack access to broadband; 39 percent of rural Americans, or 23 million people lack broadband access; and 4 percent of urban Americans lack broadband access. Indeed, the used of an “artificially high standard” as stated by Commissioner O’Reilly led to a complete disregard by the FCC in its 2016 report of the great strides being made in broadband deployment across the country. According to Broadband for America, from 1996 to 2014, Internet providers have invested $1.4 trillion in Internet infrastructure, while monthly prices for broadband access have decreased. The cable industry alone has invested $245 billion in capital infrastructure since 1996; and since 2007, download speeds have increased from 16 Mbps to up to 2 Gbps in some regions. In fact, competition is driving the private sector to provide faster speeds for less money. For example, Charter Communications, which currently has a pending merger proceeding at the FCC with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks (MB Docket 15-149), provides 60 Mbps speeds as the slowest available consumer broadband product. This is more than double what the FCC has arbitrarily set as the most recent broadband minimum level. The company has also invested more than $5.7 billion in infrastructure and technology since 2012, allowing it to quadruple its broadband speeds within in current footprint during a two-year period. Once the company merges with Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable as New Charter, it will serve roughly 17.3 million customers. Charter plans to spend an additional $2.5 billion to its expanded footprint across portions of nearly 40 states, including regions of the country that are rural and otherwise underserved areas. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) weighed in on the New Charter merger proposal at the FCC citing the economic and consumer benefits such a merger will have for the country. In his comments to the FCC, CAGW President Tom Schatz stated, “the combined New Charter holds the promise of improvements to consumer choice, quality of service, expanded options and increased job opportunities across the nation. Because there is no overlap in the coverage areas of the three companies, competition in the New Charter coverage area will not be reduced.” The FCC should not arbitrarily determine the minimum broadband speeds by using different metrics for different purposes. The agency should be a steady, concise provider of information that can be used as a proper metric to gauge broadband deployment across the country. If the commission continues down its current capricious path, it will no longer be a trusted source of information and expertise.

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