Next on the US Telecoms Agenda – Downgrading Broadband

Author: Oleg Magni -

The US telecoms industry lobby, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), Verizon and Comcast have successfully pushed their regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to get rid of net neutrality, but they are not stopping there.

An opportunity exists under the Trump administration to further roll back any regulations that stand in the way of maximising profits. As all three corporations largely enjoy geographic monopolies in their regions of operation, there is little competition driving innovation forward, giving them the ability to milk the networks that they currently have in place for as long as possible. This ability goes back to 1996, when the FCC declared that broadband was not a telecoms service and telecoms regulations therefore did not apply.

Next on the FCC’s agenda is the downgrading of the definition of broadband. At the moment, this stands at 25MB/s for downloading and 3MB/s for uploading. The incumbents have lobbied to bring that down to 10MB/s and 1 MB/s. If successful, they could claim that they have fulfilled their broadband obligations since most landlines are already able to deliver the lower speeds. They would not need to upgrade these networks any further and could then use their mobile networks for higher-speed services. This would significantly increase the costs to those users who need daily broadband services for family use, including entertainment such as Netflix, at a typical 25Mb/s+.

Areas that are unable to get landline-based services are increasingly offered a mobile service instead. As is the case in most countries, US broadband is more expensive when used over mobile networks, especially if a mobile connection must be used, being the only option for all broadband requirements.

Another change that is being rumoured is the downgrading of the school broadband service. E-Rate is a federal government-backed scheme that provides a subsidised broadband service for schools and libraries in the United States and is funded through monthly fees on phone service. So far, this service has successfully connected 97 percent of the schools in the United States, but constant updates and upgrades are needed. Since the Trump government came to power, the majority of requests for funding have suddenly been knocked back by the FCC. The issue is at the very heart of the so-called digital divide, where people in remote or rural areas of the United States have limited internet access.

Schools across the United States are now sounding the alarm on what looks suspiciously like an effort by the federal telecoms regulator to undermine efforts to build new broadband networks.

Initially, the FCC agreed with the industry suggestion to downgrade broadband requirements. Fortunately, however, there was pushback last week when the FCC – albeit reluctantly – stated that mobile broadband is not an alternative to fixed broadband and that it will not downgrade the current regulated broadband speed.

Global Seven News

Paul Budde

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