StateScoop - September 6, 2017
Written by Colin Wood
USTelecom released an industry-funded report showing trends in expansion of broadband access. StateScoop’s Colin Wood reached out to Community Broadband Networks initiative director Christopher Mitchell to discuss what this actually means for the millions with a reliable Internet connection or those residents in monopoly service territory.
Christopher’s contributions are here:
USTA shows that 65 percent of households had access to at least two service providers in 2016, but about a quarter of those included in that metric are being measured at the FCC’s rural broadband definition of 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload speed. This means the actual figure of those with the ability to choose between broadband providers — using the modern definition of broadband — includes less than half of all households in the country.
It’s obvious that there’s a shortage of market competition, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
“It looks to me like companies that have done too little investment are trying to justify that,” Mitchell said. “The FCC’s numbers, these numbers, they all show most people don’t have a lot of choices.”
The data collected by the FCC used in the report is collected at the census block level, Mitchell said. This means, for example, that a resident who lives near a hospital that has access to broadband but doesn’t necessarily have access himself would be statistically misrepresented as having access. This means the figures presented in the research are maximum values — the actual number of people who have access to these choices is lower.
When the Congress approved the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a landmark law that was designed to “accelerate rapidly private sector deployment,” market competition was presented as the central thrust. The FCC says the purpose of the law is to “let anyone enter any communications business” and “let any communications business compete in any market against any other.”
That the industry is bragging about people having access to two providers who offer advertised speeds of 10 Mbps — the actual speeds across copper connections can actually be much slower — shows that that policy has been a failure, Mitchell said.
“We are in the worst of both worlds,” Mitchell said. “If we had a lot of competition, we would have more investment and better choices. If we were still in an era in which we had one investor and they were more heavily regulated, we would probably be paying less and have faster speeds because that would be what the regulators would demand. Instead, we have very light regulation and no competition.”