AT&T's Cicconi: FCC's broadband report ignores its own definition

AT&T (NYSE: T) is taking a swipe at the FCC's draft 2016 Broadband Progress report, saying the regulator is not following its own broadband definition of 25 Mbps.

Upon releasing its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, the FCC voted during its monthly meeting in January 2015 to change the definition of broadband from a minimum of 4/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps, a move that will force incumbent telcos and cable operators to rethink how they market and deliver services to consumers and businesses.

"It's bad enough the FCC keeps moving the goal posts on their definition of broadband, apparently so they can continue to justify intervening in obviously competitive markets," said Jim Cicconi, senior EVP for external and legislative affairs for AT&T, in a blog post. "But now they are even ignoring their own definition in order to pad their list of accomplishments."

Cicconi added that the report is another ploy by the FCC to apply its net neutrality rules to a broader range of services.

"We've seen this movie before," Cicconi said. "In order to apply its net neutrality rules to as many services as possible, the FCC considers very low speeds to be broadband then cites a much higher speed level in order to claim broadband is not being reasonably and timely deployed under Section 706. So, which is it?

A draft of the FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report paints an unflattering picture of the progress of broadband rollouts in the United States.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, said that service providers aren't getting services out quickly enough to consumers.

"While the nation continues to make progress in broadband deployment, advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans," Wheeler said in the report.

The report says that over 34 million U.S. citizens can't get a minimum 25 Mbps wireline broadband connection and over 39 percent of rural consumers can't get any broadband service at all. Additionally, 41 percent of consumers that live in tribal lands can't get access, and nearly half of the U.S. schools fall below the 1 Gbps per 1,000 students goal.

When the new definition went into place, a number of the DSL services AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) deliver were no longer defined as broadband services. AT&T does deliver higher speeds of up to 75 Mbps for eligible U-verse customers, but its traditional DSL service tops out at 6 Mbps, while Verizon's DSL speeds only offer up to 15 Mbps. Verizon has publicly said that it has no plans to increase the speeds of its existing DSL services.

There were a few bright spots. The FCC's analysis revealed that the percentage of rural areas not online dropped from 55 percent in 2012 to 39 percent, and urban areas from 11 percent to 4 percent, but that trend is progressing slower than expected.

FCC broadband access 2012-2014

Overall, 10 percent of the United States is not connected to the Internet and the FCC points out that the country lags behind the majority of developed nations, placing 16th for connectivity among 34 countries.

However, two projects could help close the gap a bit. Ten service providers are taking monies from the second phase of the FCC's Connect America Fund to bring rural broadband to 3.6 million homes by 2020, and another program, E-Rate, that commits $2.8 billion to bring fiber and Wi-Fi to schools.

For more:
- see the AT&T post
- and the FCC report

Related articles:
Broadband now defined as 25 Mbps, FCC says
FCC's Wheeler says 25/3 Mbps should define broadband
Proposed bill will let cities build broadband networks
FCC commissioners remain divided on municipal broadband issue

Chart: FCC "2016 Broadband Progress Report" draft.