In early March, Senators pushed the Biden FCC to update our fairly pathetic definition of broadband, which is currently anything 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The Senators proposed something closer to 100 Mbps in both directions, a definition mirrored in a new broadband bill recently introduced in the House.
As they’ve done every single time anybody has tried to improve the US definition of broadband, ISPs have started to fight back against any changes. After all, when you increase the definition of broadband, you only further advertise the fact that monopolization has resulted in spotty coverage and slow broadband speeds across most of US. As a result there’s virtually no real competition at speeds of 100 Mbps or above in the United States.
Enter AT&T, which, in a blog post last week, argued both against subsidizing ultra-fast fiber deployments across the US, while also trying to argue that 10 Mbps upload speeds are good enough for Americans:
“[T]here would be significant additional cost to deploy fiber to virtually every home and small business in the country, when at present there is no compelling evidence that those expenditures are justified over the service quality of a 50/10 or 100/20Mbps product.”
For context, AT&T has a long, long, history of taking taxpayer subsidies and massive tax breaks for fiber networks it then fails to deliver. It also has a very long history of skimping on network upgrades and repairs, which is why only 14.93 million of the 52.97 million households in AT&T’s 21-state wireline service have access to actual, full fiber broadband. It’s also why the company is continually under fire for letting its taxpayer subsidized DSL networks simply fall apart.
In its blog post, AT&T also takes some time to complain about “overbuilding,” which is the industry’s fancy term for a little something called “competition”:
“Second, as noted above, adopting a symmetrical standard could result in overbuilding existing services today, including existing asymmetrical services that are currently meeting modern connectivity needs. My home internet connection delivers service at 300 Mbps down but only 20 Mbps up, yet it is a service that has supported my household reliably throughout the last year. Overbuilding such solutions would needlessly devalue private investment and waste broadband-directed dollars.”
AT&T’s rhetorical flourishes aside, the company is only really worried about two things here. One being a higher broadband standard that highlights how the company (in fact much of the industry) has skimped on upgrades despite billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors. The other is a subsidization process that holds bidders to a higher speed standard, something that might just result in more smaller companies providing AT&T with competition in many of its markets. AT&T can’t just come out and say this, so instead you get clever blog posts that attempt to obfuscate the company’s real motivations.
As Ars Technica notes, this is all fairly well-tread territory. When the FCC raised the definition of broadband from 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream — to 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream back in 2015, we saw much of the same consternation from industry and loyal lawmakers. Less discussed by Congress (or the press) is the fact that if America ever bothered to audit the billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors thrown at industry, they’d find that Americans likely have already paid for fiber to every home in America several times over.