Cable Industry Asks FCC To Continue Using Outdated “Broadband” Definition

Currently, a 4Mbps broadband connection — barely enough to stream a single HD movie and insufficient for accessing higher-definition content or for homes with multiple simultaneous data-heavy uses — is considered “broadband” in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission, though that should change with the FCC’s plan to redefine broadband as the significantly faster 25Mbps, which would acknowledge both the recent improvements in broadband delivery and consumers’ increased use of web-connected devices. And yet the cable industry is fighting to retain the already outdated 4Mbps standard for broadband.

In a letter letter [PDF] sent late last week to the FCC by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association — a trade group headed by former FCC Chairman Michael “Yes I’m Colin’s Son But That’s Not How I Got The Job” Powell — the cable industry argues that the Commission is going too far in trying to use the 25Mbps benchmark for broadband.

First, the NCTA warns the FCC that if it’s going to redefine broadband, that new standard should only apply to the Commission’s reports on broadband deployment; that it shouldn’t be used to determine providers’ support levels for the Connect America Fund. Doing so “would present inevitable tensions given the divergent legal standards and regulatory objectives at play,” argues NCTA.

Beyond that, the cable industry contends that the proposed 25Mbps standard is not legally tenable as it believes the law mandating periodic FCC reports on the deployment of “advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans” is intended to be a look at whether or not consumers have access to services that can support current, regular uses of broadband.

According to NCTA, the average consumer’s current broadband needs are “well below the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps threshold currently under consideration.”

The industry brushes off statements made by supporters of the redefinition, who claim that the faster speeds are needed to support delivery of 4K video content.

“[O]nly a tiny fraction of consumers use their broadband connections in this manner,” writes the NCTA, not acknowledging that many of its members were recently at CES 2015 talking up plans to bring 4K video to their customers in the coming, or that the entire television industry — from content to manufacturing — believes that 4K is an inevitability.

NCTA also claims that there is no evidence to support claims that many American households have multiple users streaming data-heavy content simultaneously — again in spite of the fact that many of its member cable providers advertise this ability to their broadband customers.

The letter points to a recent FCC report that not many people with the ability to choose a 25Mbps broadband package choose that tier of service, instead opting for less-expensive, slower packages.

“In light of these findings, the adoption of a 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark would improperly substitute the speculative judgment of the Commission for the actual, demonstrated preferences of consumers in the marketplace,” writes NCTA, once more glossing over the part where some of its member companies charge prices for 25Mbps service that make it unaffordable to consumers; meaning it may not be so much a matter of people choosing slower speeds as it may be a case of consumers paying for what is in their budgets.

So why is NCTA putting up such a fuss? It’s the faint mirage of “competition” in the broadband market all but evaporates when you raise the standard for what constitutes broadband.

At the outdated 4Mbps standard, 86% of Americans have access to broadband, which would then include numerous DSL products available through landline phone providers. But when you crank up the broadband standard to 25Mbps, the number of us with the choice between multiple broadband providers drops all the way down to 37%.

With the nation’s two largest cable-TV providers trying to merge — while both claiming they don’t compete and that there is plenty of competition in the marketplace — the NCTA doesn’t want the FCC to put out a report showing how little competition there is among broadband providers providing speeds that will still be relevant in a couple of years.

[via National Journal]

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