FCCs Wheeler Cites Absence of Competition for High-Speed Wired Broadband

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday said there is inadequate competition in the wireline market for high-speed broadband services.

As bandwidth increases, there are fewer competitive choices, Wheeler said during a speech in Washington, D.C. Even at the relatively low broadband speeds of 4 megabits per second to 10 Mbps, most Americans only have the choice of two providers, he said.

“But users cannot respond by easily switching providers,” Wheeler said after citing examples of ISPs charging early termination fees and equipment rental fees. “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.”

When one ramps up the speed to 25 Mbps, most Americans have no competitive choice, while 82 percent of consumers have no choice at 50 Mbps, he said.

Wheeler’s speech also highlighted successes in the broadband market that have been spurred on by competition. For instance, he referenced AT&T’s plans to launch gigabit fiber in 21 markets — many of them the same places where Google previously revealed plans to lay fiber. Reversing course, Cox Cable also intends to lay fiber, beginning in communities where CenturyLink and Google are doing so, Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the FCC will protect competition where it exists and encourage it where there is no meaningful competition. He also said the Commission will work to create meaningful competition where it is not available. He cited as an example the FCC’s efforts to expand the amount of unlicensed spectrum.

Finally, Wheeler said the FCC will promote the deployment of broadband where there is no expectation of competition. For instance, he referenced universal service initiatives aimed to expand broadband to rural America.

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