Will Wheeler’s challenge be enough to up operators’ broadband game?

By jimoneill

FCC chief challenges providers to push more speed

Seems I’m not the only one pining for 1 Gbps Internet; turns out someone with a little more clout, FCC boss Tom Wheeler, feels the same way.

Wheeler, speaking at 1776, a startup incubator in Washington, D.C., said “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections, both to take advantage of today’s new services, and to incentivize the development of tomorrow’s innovations.”

The FCC’s has defined broadband as 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps up.

But, with 60% of peak-period Internet activity consisting of bandwidth-intensive content, like video, it’s begun to change its tune.

And that, obviously, is a good thing.

Assuming an HD movie requires 5 Mbps and super HD requires 7 Mbps, it’s easy to see that most American homes – many of which have six connected devices or more – easily need a connection with 25 Mbps or more speed, something 20% of Americans currently don’t have access to, NTIA data shows, and something Wheeler believes should be “table stakes in 21st-century communications.”

In fact, nearly 10% don’t have access to 10 Mbps Internet.

Much of the problem, Wheeler said, is that “users cannot respond by easily switching providers.”

“As a result, even though there may be competition, the marketplace may not be offering consumers competitive opportunities to change providers, especially once they’ve signed up with a provider in the first place,” Wheeler said.

Back to the Giga-speed.

The FCC points out that Kansas saw a “97% surge in speeds to 34.4 Mbps after Google announced its fiber deployment in Kansas City;” it was the biggest year-over-year jump in bandwidth of any state in the U.S. When Google announced plans to deploy in Austin, TWC trotted out a 300 Mbps offering (the top Tier had been 50 Mbps), and AT&T joined the 1 Gbps show (they offer it now for $70 a month). As Cox and CenturyLink have begun to turn up speeds in their footprints – Cox promises 1 Gbps speeds across its entire footprint within a year or so – competitors have responded.

“A year ago, Cox Cable said it wouldn’t be upgrading to gigabit networks because it would cost billions. Now it says it will, starting with communities where Google and CenturyLink are deploying fiber.”

Wheeler, meanwhile, wants that competition to heat up even more.

He’s put together a four-point policy framework to help goose providers into adding more speed to American’s Broadband:

  1. Where competition exists, the Commission will protect it.
  2. Where greater competition can exist, we will encourage it.
  3. Where meaningful competition is not available, the Commission will work to create it.
  4. Where competition cannot be expected to exist, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting the deployment of broadband for the sake of consumers and innovators.

SNL Kagan has an interesting study of 1 Gig deployments and planned deployments.

You know who’s ahead? In a big way? It’s not cable operators… it’s telcos… and, of course, Google.

Telcos have 1 Gbps offerings up in 14 major markets, and have announced plans for 20-plus more.

AT&T GigaPower is up in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth; CenturyLink is deployed in 11, including Phoenix, Seattle-Tacoma, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Omaha. AT&T has announced plans for San Jose, Houston and San Antonio, Texas, Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C., Nashville and Kansas City.

Google Fiber, of course, has launched in Kansas City and in Provo, Utah, and has begun deploying in Austin. It has plans for, perhaps, dozens of additional deployments.

Even Cincinnati Bell has announced a deployment in the Cincinnati metro area.

Verizon, meanwhile, has kicked up its top offering to 500 Mbps, and with no significant competition in its threat in its footprint of a 1 Gbps service, it’s likely to stay there awhile.

On the cable side, well, far fewer announcements – and no deployments – of residential 1 Gbps service so far.

Cox says it’ll have 1 Gbps soon in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha and promises to be across its footprint in 2016; Time Warner Cable is promising 1 Gbps service in Los Angeles, Suddenlink plans to offer 1 Gbps service across its footprint by 2016 and Comcast has a limited 505 Mbps offering.

How long will it really take to get 1 Gbps service to a majority of Americans?

I’m with you, Tom; I think it will be far too long. It’s time to turn up the heat.

Follow me on Twitter @JimONeillMedia

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