FCC shows the telecom world who’s boss

Written by on February 5, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

The bossIn its 80 years of existence, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been directly involved in some of the biggest decisions in communications, from the original Communications Act in 1934 that formed the agency and helped bring communications services to masses to its instrumental role in breaking up AT&T in the 1990s.

Lately, the FCC has been flexing its muscles in a number of different ways that have the potential to stir things up more than at any time since the telecom monopoly breakup almost 20 years ago. First, the agency has redefined what ‘broadband’ means in a move that’s sure to rattle some cages. Back in 2010, the FCC decreed that broadband was 4 Mbps, but that was before the rapid uptake of subscription streaming services when Netflix was the only major player and Amazon was still about a year away from launching its Instant Video services.

The latest change would classify speeds of 25Mbps downstream as broadband, which puts pressure on service providers to boost speeds to more customers. Under the new rules, almost 20 percent of the American population doesn’t have access to broadband, with about half of rural residents lacking any sort of access. This decree is a thorn in the side of cable and other operators that still rely on DSL to get services to customers. Current DSL max out at around the 15Mbps mark, potentially forcing providers to make the expensive upgrade to fiber if they didn’t already have those plans in place.

One of the FCC’s commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel went one better than Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposals and stated she was for a new threshold of 100Mbps, so the agency may not be done tinkering with its rules.

In other big news, the FCC just collected a windfall in the latest round of spectrum auctions. The agency made off with more than $40 billion in its Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-3) auction focusing on 4G spectrum. The usual suspects – AT&T and Verizon – each shelled out more than $10 billion for chunks of spectrum, with T-Mobile only parting with a paltry $1 billion.

The interesting wild card here is satellite provider Dish Networks, which bid just shy of $10 billion for spectrum it can’t use because it doesn’t offer wireless service. Was this a power play to snap up spectrum so no one else can take advantage of it, or does Dish have something up its sleeve and either start up its own wireless service or merge with an established player? No matter how it plays out, expect the wireless industry to keep a watchful eye on where that spectrum lands.

And not to be overshadowed, the specter of net neutrality still permeates almost every telecom discussion these days as Wheeler goes on a tear to let anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave know that he is for the strictest possible rules to ensure a continued free and open Internet. He proposes to do this by treating the Internet as a commodity much like electricity or other utility services. But as we’ve already discussed, since not every segment of the Internet runs at exactly the same speed, it’s impossible to guarantee certain speeds all the time.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on this extremely contentious issue in a few weeks, and if Wheeler gets his way, it’ll show even more clearly that this FCC is doing things by its own set of rules.

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About the Author

About the Author: Anita is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering just about everything in the technology space with a focus on computer networking and telecommunications. She was managing editor of Billing & OSS World magazine and technology editor at Network magazine and most recently was in charge of newsletter coverage at TM Forum. .

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