The FCC’s long history of ignoring the broadband duopoly’s stranglehold over telecom markets has at times bordered on the comedic. This is, after all, the agency that required 36 public workshops, 9 field hearings, 31 public notices and 376 pages to craft a “National Broadband Plan” that went well out of its way to avoid doing anything substantive about the lack of broadband competition. And only the FCC could spend $300 million on a broadband mapping website that completely omits price, while routinely hallucinating both competitors and available speeds.
If the FCC has an area of expertise, it has historically been empty broadband lip service and elaborate, theatrical dance routines designed to protect the status quo.
But under Tom Wheeler, we’re actually starting to see this change a little bit. For example, Wheeler recently pushed the agency to bump the definition of broadband to 25 Mbps, to highlight how three-quarters of American homes lack more than one option for real broadband service. Under Wheeler, for the first time in fifteen years, the FCC is no longer pretending that U.S. broadband is robustly competitive. He’s still been reticent to acknowledge high prices or the fact that broadband users are consistently gouged with misleading, below the line fees, but baby steps, right?
Now the agency has announced it is fielding inquiries on whether or not it should include usage caps, overage fees, pricing and latency when crafting its annual Broadband Progress Report on the state of broadband competition:
“Today’s Notice of Inquiry further seeks comment on whether to consider standards beyond speed when assessing broadband deployment, including latency and consistency of service. And it asks whether to consider factors beyond physical deployment, including pricing and data allowances, privacy, and broadband adoption.”
That’s not great news for lagging broadband ISPs, given that the FCC’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report already found that 55 million Americans — 17 percent of the population — lack access to advanced broadband, and over half of all Americans lack access to broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up. Factor in price, actual line performance, and whether a connection is hampered with bandwidth caps and overages, and those statistics could very quickly get much, much uglier. The FCC has also told the GAO that it may start factoring in streaming video performance when reporting on whether competitive broadband is being successfully deployed.
All told, the FCC’s proposed changes will make it harder than ever for incumbent broadband ISPs to pretend that nothing’s wrong with the U.S. broadband market. Not that they won’t keep trying, since at this point pretending U.S. broadband is infallible is sort of a national pastime and full-time job for incumbent ISPs and their armies of paid telecom policy wonks.