If you regularly watch broadcast TV, you’ve likely seen the war between internet service providers over speed. FiOS, from Verizon, will claim the fastest speeds, while Xfinity from Comcast, will claim the “fastest in home WiFi” (whatever that means). However, if you listen to the lobbyists these companies hire, the internet doesn’t need to be any faster in the US, and consumers don’t want or need it.
Do you remember being asked about this? Because I certainly don’t. In fact, offering people faster internet is a bit like offering them free money. No one would say no to it. Do these cable companies really think they can pul the wool over the eyes of the FCC? Maybe with enough money they can.
The FCC is looking to redefine the minimum download and upload speeds required for a service to be defined as “broadband”. A plan on the table would redefine broadband as internet service with at least 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed. Right now, if you’re lucky, this is what you get at full speed on Comcast’s Xfinity program. However, you’ll rarely see that full speed in everyday use. Comcast, as well as other cable companies, are pleased with the fact that they can market even their slowest services as “broadband”. As such, they want to keep the definition of broadband as slow as possible, so they can market fast internet speeds without offering them.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association is one of the largest lobbying groups in the United States. Last year alone they spent $12 million on lobbying efforts. They’ve been the most vocal opponent to net neutrality, either directly or through the association’s members. Now they’re telling our government that the citizens of this country don’t want or need faster internet, that the current speeds are sufficient, and therefore “broadband” shouldn’t be redefined to keep up with the times. Unfortunately, the politicians in our government are frequently swayed by lobbyists and campaign contributions, and the large corproations generally have their way, that is, unless consumers fight back.
There are companies that are on the side of consumers. Netflix has been a huge supporter for net neutrality, and also has pushed to redefine broadband as internet speeds meeting or exceeding 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds. Netflix (correctly) points out that in order for higher definition video streaming to be a possibility, 25Mbps download speed is crutial. Netflix wants to start offering 4K video to consumers, but requires faster broadband speeds from internet service providers to do this. Right now, broadband is defined as a pathetically slow service, 4Mbps download and 1Mbps upload. This isn’t enough for most consumers, and certainly wouldn’t be fast enough to stream 4K (or even HD) video.
Cable companies have long been the enemy of the consumer. There’s little to no choice when it comes to internet service in regions, and cable companies have control of both internet and television. In some cases, they even have telephone services cornered. They’ve been able to price their services however they choose, as they’re without competition, and they’ve lobbied to keep America in this state. Cable companies often offer faster internet speeds to customers willing to pay more, but if broadband is redefined, a smaller percentage of their customers will have broadband. These customers will pressure companies to increase speeds until they finally cave.
The real question now is, will the FCC be persuaded by these large companies (and their money), or by the voice of the people? History’s not in our favor, but sometimes, a piece of legislation gets enough support from the public that our government has no choice but to bend to the will of the people. Will broadband be redefined to keep up with increasing internet needs? Consumers might hope so, but they’ve got some powerful opponents.