FCC chair calls for broadband competition

“Meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking, and Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in remarks delivered Thursday. Businesses and consumers, he said, need better connections “both to take advantage of today's new services and to incentivize the development of tomorrow's innovations.”

He called for “an Agenda for Broadband Competition that establishes principles for all our broadband activities.”

He noted that while competition has been the underpinning of broadband policy. “Unfortunately,” he added, “the reality we face today is that as bandwidth increases, competitive choice decreases.”

He said that the FCC's current definition of broadband—4 Mb/s—is actually “yesterday's broadband.” He called for a new 10-Mb/s spec but noted that even that isn't adequate, as many homes have multiple connected devices.

He noted that much bandwidth usage today is devoted to entertainment, but he looked to a future in which high bandwidth will be required for applications ranging from remote medical diagnosis to education.

The good news is that 80% of American homes have access to 25-Mb/s connections, and a majority have access to 100-Mb/s service. “But—and it's a very big but—just because most Americans have access to next-generation broadband doesn't mean they have competitive choices,” he said.

“At 25 Mb/s,” he said, “there is simply no competitive choice for most Americans. Stop and let that sink in…three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st century and democracy.” And the problem grows at higher speeds, where the traditional twisted-pair copper of DSL simply cannot keep up. He cited wireless as a potential alternative but one that suffers from high pricing levels and limited data allowances. He failed to note that wireless operators take every opportunity to switch handsets to the nearest broadband-fed Wi-Fi access point.

What's the solution? Wheeler said incentivizing competition should precede regulation. “We must try our best—companies and communities, incumbents and insurgents—to foster more competition,” he said.

The FCC, he said, will protect competition where it exists, encourage competition where it can exist, and create competition were it does not exist, and—in, for example, rural areas, “shoulder the responsibility of promoting the deployment of broadband.”

He concluded, “Our challenge—and by 'our' I mean both industry and government—is to do everything in our power to ensure that the United States had the world's most dynamic and competitive broadband ecosystem with a virtuous cycle of new investment, new innovations, and new services. It's a lofty goal. But I have no doubt this is achieveable.”

You can read Wheeler's prepared remarks here.

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