The cable industry has come out against the FCC redefining broadband from the present minimum of 4 Mbps to a floor of 25 Mbps downstream.
Nearly every cable operator is now providing broadband rates far in excess of the proposed new minimum, but the cable industry insists that’s not the point.
The speed definition of broadband is intrinsically tied into the network neutrality debate, which is tightly intertwined with the argument about how to classify broadband – as an information service subject to negligible regulation (the status quo) or as a communications service, which would make broadband subject to regulation under Title II of the Communications Act.
The point for the cable industry is to resist reclassification under Title II, and that means resisting a redefinition the minimum speed of broadband at a rate most MSOs exceeded years ago.
In a statement released to the public, the NCTA only alludes to this. At the end of the statement it finally gets around to stating that it views the redefinition as “a clear effort to justify and expand the bounds of the FCC’s own authority.”
In a statement it filed with the FCC, the NCTA noted that cable now provides speeds of at least 50 Mbps to 85 percent of U.S. homes, and that speeds of 100 Mbps are common.
In its FCC filing, the NCTA starts by calling the new definition arbitrary, and argued that it doesn’t reflect how people use the Internet today.
Cable’s lobbying operation noted that the FCC itself set 10 Mbps as the minimum a broadband provider needs to offer if it wants to qualify for government funding of broadband expansion projects under the Connect America Fund (CAF) program.
The NCTA warned of legal confusion if the CAF standard for broadband stands at 10 Mbps while for all other purposes it is redefined at 25 Mbps (and 3 Mbps upstream).
That’s not unimportant, but it’s a side issue. The FCC wants to reclassify broadband under Title II. Title II authority would give the Commission broader legal authority to encourage more competition.
With the definition of broadband at 4 Mbps, there are still many U.S. markets where there is only one competitor, but the competitive landscape looks pretty good overall. If broadband is redefined as 25 Mbps, the number of markets where there is any competition at all is reduced significantly. In just as many markets, there will be only two competitors. Having only two competitors is often tantamount to no competition — ask cable companies about how they felt about the old duopoly of General Instrument and Scientific-Atlanta.
The FCC can justify Title II reclassification with a legitimate claim there isn’t enough competition right now, but if it redefines broadband, its argument for Title II is strengthened significantly.
This all puts cable in the ridiculous position of providing a service five- to 10 times faster than what it argues is needed, but objecting to the FCC redefining that service as only 2½ times that number.
The NCTA filed its document in advance of the FCC publishing its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, which it has been preparing for months. The Commission long ago signaled the possibility of redefining broadband as 25 Mbps. If the FCC redefines broadband, it will likely do so using this report as a vehicle.
Ted Hearn, VP Communications for the ACA, added, “While ACA considers the FCC’s 706 report to be flawed, we believe the focus should be less on a report and more on concrete actions. Under section 706, the FCC is to focus on removing barriers to broadband deployment. Yet, with its upcoming move to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service subject to Title II, the FCC instead is headed in the opposite direction. It will be imposing barriers, particularly for small and mid-sized cable operators. ACA calls on the Chairman to issue a fact-based decision in the Open Internet proceeding — one that will drive broadband deployment in all the small communities and rural areas served by ACA members.”