AT&T and Verizon: Your Home Network Doesn’t Actually Need To Be As Fast As Your Phone


The FCC has been all about broadband this year. In the mix with net neutrality and the Comcast/TWC merger, they’re also taking on the dearth of broadband competition consumers face and even thinking about redefining the meaning of the term to a higher minimum network speed. But AT&T and Verizon aren’t having it: according to comments they’ve filed with the FCC, a wired network connection too slow for a solid Netflix connection, and slower than the 4G your phone uses, should be perfectly satisfactory for a bandwidth-hungry nation.

Ars Technica pointed out the comments from the two telecom giants. In their filings, AT&T (PDF) and Verizon (PDF) both strenuously objected to the FCC raising the broadband threshold.

Their argument is basically that because there are plenty of households out there that are basically just grandma checking her e-mail twice a week, that 10 Mbps far exceeds what the average American consumer actually needs at home. The FCC, meanwhile, posits that an average four-person household could easily have four or more devices simultaneously in use, and that those four devices together — performing basic, common tasks — could easily use or exceed 10 Mbps of data.

AT&T and Verizon claim that the FCC’s numbers are “arbitrary” and more or less bunk. In their comment, AT&T refers to the FCC’s mandate to define broadband as “the capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications, and they add, “That definition should be applied with reference to how consumers use broadband services today; it does not give license for a casual, back-of-the-envelope calculation of bandwidth requirements of the highest-volume households that are simultaneously using multiple bandwidth-intensive applications.”

But there’s nothing terribly off-the-wall about the FCC’s estimates. Netflix, the service at the center of so much internet controversy this year, recommends a 5 Mbps minimum connection to watch HD video. That’s already higher than the 4 Mbps standard, and it’s just one (very common) task on one device. If someone is using FaceTime in another room, and someone in a third room is trying to stream video from another source, that takes that household to a much higher-bandwidth spot very quickly.

As FCC chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out in a speech last week, when you start to look at speeds of 10 Mbps or higher, the broadband competition scene in the U.S. becomes dismal at best. When the bar for “broadband access” is set at 25 Mbps instead of 4 Mbps, most Americans live in an area served by exactly one provider — if they have access at all.

It’s not just the old copper-line companies that object. Although individual cable companies mostly stayed out of it, the NCTA, the big trade and lobbying group that represents them all, also filed a comment PDF) objecting to raising the standard.

Bringing networks up to 21st century speeds is a big infrastructure investment, it’s true. For all that companies like AT&T repeatedly tout how many billions they’re investing in network upgrades, they still hate to spend money. But simply put, they’re going to have to eventually. There’s only so long they can stay in operation just by blocking competition.

AT&T and Verizon say 10Mbps is too fast for “broadband,” 4Mbps is enough [Ars Technica]