FCC Broadband - Dream or Nightmare

by LiamBean

The National Broadband Plan, unveiled March 16, 2010, is an FCC road-map which details plans for providing broadband Internet access for the entire country by 2020.

February 7, 2013

The federal government (U.S.A.) unveiled a national broadband plan in March 2012, but things are not going as planned.

According to a report by the FCC up to sixty six (66%) percent of households and businesses who are paying for broadband aren't actually getting it.


That means that if you are a 3G, 4G, Cable modem, WiFi or DSL customer it is more likely that you are not getting your broadband speeds no matter what your vendor tells you.

And why is that? This article will attempt to address the "why" and what can be done about it.

Extremely Disturbing

Profits before Promises

Sixty six percent of Americans are paying for broadband Internet service and are getting less in speed than most users in Europe, Japan, China, and the Middle East.

In fact, in Hong Kong, a typical Chinese citizen can get a 500 Megabit per second connection for about $20.00 per month. We don't even approach 100 Megabit per second for connections costing over $200 per month.


The FCC Report


When referring to the figures below bear in mind that Fixed-Location Connections means a wired connection to the home or office. Wireless is self-explanatory.

What's in the Report

The report, titled "Internet Access Services: Status as of December 31, 2009", reports on the state of wired America.

A broadband connection, by FCC standards is data in any direction that is transmitted at 200 Kilobits per second (K bp/s) or better. But "broadband" vendors often cite rates much higher than this; are you actually getting the advertised speed? To put this in perspective the Hong Kong citizen cited above, with a 500 Megabit per second connection, can surf the web at 2,500 times the speed of what the FCC calls broadband.

In sampling downstream (to the user) broadband speeds across the country the following was found. Fully, thirty (30%) percent of connections advertised as broadband were six million (6,000,000) bps or better. That left seventy (70%) percent that were less.

Of that seventy (70%), twelve (12%) percent were higher than three (3mbps) mega bits per second, but less than six (6mbps) million bits per second. The remaining fifty-eight (58%) percent of downstream (to the user) connections were at or below three (3mbps) mega bits per second.

To put this another way, the sample data queried one hundred thirty-three (133,148,000) million connections. Of those 40,382,000 were above 6mbps, 76,594,000 were below 3mbps, and 16,172,000 were greater than 3mbps and less than 6mbps.

Competition Makes Things Worse

Interestingly, the more providers the worse the service. When it came to transmission speeds at the low end of the scale forty-eight (48%) percent of customers had a choice between three or more providers. At the top end of the scale, where customers were able to achieve speeds of 10mbps or better only two percent were in areas with more than three providers where fifty-eight (58%) percent in the top tier category had a single provider to choose from.

In other words it was actually better, sort of, to be limited to one service provider in your area.

Part of the reason for this is that, by law, service providers must share infrastructure. That means wires, fiber optics, and other hardware are shared and sub-leased.

Looking at the table below (numbers are in 100,000s) you can see connections by type; aDSL and sDSL are telephone company technologies, Cable Modem is typically offered by cable companies such as TimeWarner and Comcast. Other Wireline and FTTP1 are independent service provider technologies, Satellite is just what it says. Fixed wireless and Power Line are provided by utilities such as electric companies, and finally Mobile Wireless is typically what you have on your smart phone, feature phone or wireless tablet.

One can readily see that Mobile Wireless has almost at the same number of connections for all wired types (everything above) and this was in 2009.

Grand Total190,987,000

Total Fixed103,100,000

Connection Type Number in 100,000
aDSL   6,158,000
sDSL   44,000
Other Wireline  1,402,000
Cable Modem   84,850,000
FTTP1   7,518,000
Satellite   2,106,000
Fixed Wireless   1,012,000
Power Line and Other   10,000
Mobile Wireless  87,887,000
Total Fixed 103,100,000
Grand Total 190,987,000
Pie Chart - Connection by Type
Pie Chart - Connection by Type
Author generated

What the Report Doesn't Say

We don't know which service providers are lagging behind

Though the plan calls for completion by the year 2020 there have been some grinding disappointments.

What you won't find in the report is a list of providers who are selling sub-standard service. I find this personally disappointing. But, with the tools in this article, you have at your disposal the ability to do your own research and file a complaint if necessary.

With the the three links below you can determine the speed of your Internet connection and complain if you aren't getting what you think you are paying for.  

Hold these vendors feet to the fire. There is no reason why we should not have a world-class wired America.

I highly recommend conducting three tests and use two of the links above. Jot down each figure upload speed and download speed figure to create a small table. You can average out the speed of each and determine what your connection speed is.

Please note that your download speed should be roughly ten times the upload speed. This is normal.

Are You Getting a Fair Deal?

Are you getting a fair shake? Good for you, you are one of the 33% who are.

If not contact the FCC. They are the branch of the government who licenses these bandwidth channels. The vendors who lease them make certain promises to the government in exchange for the license. If the provider doesn't abide by the agreement, the federal government has the power to lean on them to enforce the contract conditions or even to shut them down.

If you feel you are not getting the best service for your fee go to the FCC site and file a complaint. The link is directly below.

Contact the FCC

The form is very easy to use. First select "Broadband Service and VOIP" then click the next button; this is the third option from the bottom. Next, select "Billing, Service, Availability, and Number Portability Issues;" this is also third from the bottom and click next. Finally, click "complete the form." Complete the consumer information box at the top including your name, address and phone number.

Next complete the form 200B. If you are not complaining about a phone number leave that blank. Provide the FCC with the name of the company, the account number, a disputed amount (if any), if you've paid the amount and how much, if the adjustment you requested was made, the amount of the adjustment, and if the charges are related to an additional service. If any of these items have no answer leave them blank. Finally, Item 6, is the most important. Write the nature of your problem in plain language. This is where you can complain about sub-standard speed. You can also attach a file, such as a Word document if you like.

Once finished click the "Submit Form" button. You should have a response within three weeks or less. The response will include the text of your complaint and information about when the FCC contacted the company you are complaining about.

I have used this form in the past when my provider had service problems in my area that lasted about five days. They refused to pro-rate my bill even though I ended up paying for service I did not receive. The letter of complaint goaded my provider into offering an apology and making up for lost service.


Broadband Revisited

Comparing 2009 figures to 2012 figures

After a careful review of data for the last four years the FCC has determined;

  • Growth of broadband has slowed
  • Barriers to adoption are more complex than anticipated
  • Broadband continues to be a non-starter as for profit companies pursue high dollar customers while neglecting or completely ignoring those making less than $25,000 per year
  • Smartphones help close adoption gaps, but have limits as standalone access devices
  • Many areas of the country still have no service whatever

As for profit companies pursue profits from high income customers, emphasis on growing broadband for all customers has slowed or, in some cases, come to a complete stop. This means that the high income customers get less than competitive service (in relation to the rest of the world) and low income customers get extremely bad service or none at all. In order to service the low income customers, many of whom live in rural areas, more money must be spent on infrastructure. Companies are loath to spend this kind of money on infrastructure when it is so much more profitable to continue to slowly increase the speeds customers are willing to pay for.

In the end those customers who can afford to pay for service are getting incremental increases in speed while paying ever more for those increases. All of this is driven by profits.

Smartphones still do not attain the speed or connectivity or a wired connection so concentrating on this technology is not really helping increase the broadband base.

Finally, because of the expense of providing broadband in rural areas many citizens have no Internet connections at all and no means to get one. To put this another way companies are not spending money in rural areas because the return on investment is so poor.

To sustain the plan the FCC stated that the following recommendations are;

  • To develop a “best practice” tool-kit on broadband planning
  • Use and reform the Lifeline/Link-Up program to redirect funding to states and localities that may be able to provide services that the big companies can or will not provide

Communications Haves and Have Nots

As companies concentrate on profits a disparity is developing

The 2012 report also brought to the fore-front other information that is showing that there is a growing disparity in this country regarding connectivity.

Only four out of ten households making under $25,000 per year have wired internet access at home. 93% of households making over 100,000 have connection.

A 500 Megabit per second connection in Hong Kong costs $20 per month. A slower connection in New York city costs $200 per month.

According to the Pew Research Center’s "Internet & American Life Project," 20% of adults who still do not use the Internet are older, less educated, low-income, and/or less likely to speak English.


How We Get Can the Service We Deserve

One way is continually contact the provider and ask, pointedly, why we are now a third-world country when it comes to Internet access. You can also take to social media, "friend" your service provider and occasionally leave messages asking why service is not better.

But maybe it's time to take a bigger step. Since these companies seem to be ignoring the lease-holder maybe it's time to nationalize Internet service.

The Federal government stepped in whey electricity coverage lagged behind the rest of the nation in the Tennessee Valley. The result was ubiquitous electrical coverage and tens of thousands of jobs. The program continued to reap benefits to the nation during the war years when demands for aluminum for bomber aircraft reached astronomical levels. The TVA "stepped up to the plate" and delivered.

We can have a similar boon if we take high speed access out of the hands of business and put it into the hands of public agencies.

Even if this is not the best resort, the threat of such action might prod the for profit companies into doing what they've been tasked to do; provide the entire country with high quality broadband access.

Should Internet Access be Federally Operated

  Display results
Results of Poll
Updated: 11/10/2014, LiamBean
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