FCC: Broadband Deployment Still Isn’t Timely, Reasonable

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications
Commission has once again
concluded that broadband is not being
deployed in a reasonable and timely manner, and
the agency is suggesting that mark won’t be hit until
there is 100% penetration.

That conclusion
gives the FCC a continued
congressional
mandate to continue
using its regulatory
muscle to spur
broadband deployment
per the Telecommunications
Act and overcome what it says are
the continuing obstacles to deployment (see “Broadband
Roadblocks”).

The FCC’s conclusion came in its latest 706 Report,
a congressionally mandated update on the state of advanced
communications deployment. The agency’s
findings did not sit well with Republican FCC commissioners,
who dissented from the report; Hill Republicans,
who called for FCC reform; or a host of industry
players.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association
was not commenting, but plenty of others were. Procompetition
industry consortium Netcompetition.org
— whose members include the NCTA, the American
Cable Association, and the Cellular Telecommunications
Association — was was not shy.

“This FCC report became obsolete before the ink
dried because it is based on obsolete law and comically obsolete
technological assumptions,” Netcompetition.org
chairman Scott Cleland said. “This report is an anachronism
and a waste of taxpayer funds.”

FCC Republicans Robert McDowell and Ajit Pai
agreed the report was off-base, issuing multi-page dissents
to express their displeasure. It is the third year
the commission has said broadband deployment has not
met the benchmark.

While the report found that public and private industry
have taken significant and substantial steps to accelerate
deployment, it cites the approximately 19 million
Americans “in areas still unserved by terrestrial-fixed
broadband” and, for that and “other reasons,” determined
“that broadband is not yet being deployed ‘to all
Americans’ in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

That came despite the report’s detailing of the major
strides cable operators and others have made toward
deployment and adoption, including “billions invested
by the communications industry in broadband deployment,
including next-generation wired and wireless services”
and “expansion of networks technically capable
of 100-Megabit-plus speeds to over 80% of the population
through cable’s DOCSIS 3.0 rollout.”

In his statement on the report, FCC chairman Julius
Genachowski suggested a big gap remains between that
80% availability and actual speeds.

“Industry reports
that the upgrade of cable
infrastructure to
DOCSIS 3.0 technology
means that more
than 80% of Americans
have access to networks
technically capable of
100-Mbps or more,”
Genachowski said,
“[b]ut our data show
that just 27% of Americans
are being offered
broadband ser vices
at those speeds today,
and U.S. prices for
these higher-speed services
exceed many other
countries.”

Senior GOP commissioner
McDowell
said that broadband
rollout had been “swift
and strong,” and said he was disappointed that, yet
again, the majority had “decided to clutch to its earlier
negative findings.”

Anti-media-consolidation group Free Press latched
onto the report to argue that the FCC needs to do more
to spur broadband competition beyond “throw[ing]
more consumer-funded subsidies at the giant companies
that continue to fail to deliver on their promises.”

That was a reference to the FCC’s shift of Universal
Service Fund subsidies from traditional phone service
to broadband via the new Connect America Fund.
By contrast, cell phone companies last week said the
report was an argument for speeding the granting of
those new broadband monies.

The 706 Report mentions the advances in mobile
wireless, but still does not include that deployment in
the standard for meeting the “reasonable and timely”
benchmark. A separate notice of inquiry issued with
the report asks whether it should be included in future
reports. McDowell, for one, has said he is a definite “yes”
vote for that change.

TAKEAWAY

The FCC’s Democratic
majority remains unsatisfied
with the scope of broadband
Inrternet service in the U.S.

BROADBAND ROADBLOCKS

The FCC identified seven key obstacles to
reasonable and timely broadband rollouts:

“Costs and delays in building out networks”;

“Broadband service quality”;

“Lack of affordable broadband Internet access
services”;

“Lack of access to computers and other broadband-
capable equipment”;

“Lack of relevance of broadband for some consumers”;

“Poor digital literacy”; and

“Other reasons, such as consumers’ lack of trust in
broadband and Internet content and services.”

— John Eggerton

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