O’Rielly: Ultrafast broadband is a 'novelty,' cannot drive FCC policy decisions

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that while gigabit speeds may be an exciting "novelty" for the consumers who currently get them, pushing 1 Gbps expansion could be unfair to other residential customers who only have DSL or even dialup internet.

“The outcry for things like ultrahigh-speed service in certain areas means longer waits for those who have no access or still rely on dialup service, as providers rush to serve the denser and more profitable areas that seek upgrades to this level,” O’Rielly said. “Today, ultrafast residential service is a novelty and good for marketing, but the tiny percentage of people using it cannot drive our policy decisions.” 

O’Reilly added that the better method for broadband expansion is to focus on providing a range of speeds that can accommodate a larger group of consumers.

“We should strive to ensure that broadband of a realistic speed and quality is available for as many as possible, knowing it will be far exceeded in most circumstances,” O’Rielly said.

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The FCC commissioner’s thoughts on broadband expansion come on the heels of a proposal by a group of Democrats challenging Donald Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative with an alternative plan that will expand "high speed and affordable broadband" in underserved and unserved rural areas of the country.

The group proposed a plan to dedicate $20 billion to expand wireline and wireless broadband service options for communities.

O’Rielly said that if such a proposal were to emerge, it must not affect competitors and the FCC’s own rural broadband programs.

“While sound telecom policy provisions that promote infrastructure buildout could make sense, I would argue that policymakers should be leery of new communications infrastructure spending, as the last thing consumers or businesses need is an encore of the market distortions caused by the last Federal government economic stimulus efforts,” O’Rielly said. “For the sake of efficiency and soundness, if new government money has to be included for broadband, it should be done in a way that does not harm competition in the marketplace, prevents bureaucrats from picking winners and losers, is technology agnostic, distributes resources in an effective and efficient manner, and does not undermine the FCC’s universal service high-cost program.”