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Verizon: We're Not Setting Broadband Definition Bar Low
We're just, well, setting the broadband definition bar low
by Karl Bode 01:31PM Friday Sep 04 2009
As noted earlier this week, a number of carriers have responded to the FCC's request for a concrete definition of broadband with the suggestion that the FCC stick to their current definition of broadband as 768 kbps downstream and 200 kbps upstream. Consumer advocates want the definition set higher, given this is about setting a goal for ourselves as a nation as we craft our first national broadband plan. Verizon, in a post over at their regulatory affairs (read: lobbying) blog, apparently took some offense to our suggestion they're setting the bar low:
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The implication here is that we want to keep the speed set low so we won't have to upgrade our networks. From where we stand, this is clearly absurd. Verizon is deploying the country's most advanced wireline and wireless broadband services. Our FiOS Internet service is delivering speeds up to 50 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up over fiber to the home today and will be able to provide 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps, and beyond as customer demand continues to grow.
Of course this ignores the fact that Verizon has a long history of leaving rural states horribly under-served, and is selling off huge chunks of their network they don't want to upgrade. While these deals net Verizon huge debt and tax relief, the sales have had a disastrous impact on consumers. After claiming they're not setting a low bar for broadband, the company goes on to admit they're, well, setting a low bar for broadband, because they're constrained by the laws of physics:
After all, we live in a mostly rural nation with a population density very different than most of the developed world.. If we set a baseline definition too high as we aim to wire the unwired in remote areas, we may have made that goal much harder to achieve due -- not to will or policy -- but the laws of physics.
In reality, refusing to provide DSL, LTE or FiOS to rural America isn't so much about physics as it is about lower profits, which is the whole reason Uncle Sam is doling out broadband stimulus funds Verizon didn't bother to apply for. Why? Because the money has to be spent on unserved, rural markets Verizon wants nothing to do with, and Verizon has grown used to getting their taxpayer dollars with zero accountability. Verizon seems to want to have their cake and eat it too here, highlighting that their filing (pdf) actually sets "aspirational" goals of 50 Mbps for landline broadband and 5 Mbps for wireless broadband. What their filing actually says is considerably more wimpy:
For example, setting a broad objective of moving toward a downstream target of 50 Mbps for fixed services and 5 Mbps for mobile services would be an aggressive longer term goal, recognizing that as the marketplace continues to develop there will continue to be variability in the levels of service available in particular areas for the foreseeable future based on a range of technological, geographic, economic and other factors.
In other words, Verizon doesn't mind a floating, vague goal of 50Mbps -- provided nobody really holds their feet to the fire, and it's understood that they can wimp out of these demands at any time, because deploying broadband is just too damn hard. But for any decision that actually matters, Verizon thinks 768kbps is just fine. The lower the base standard, the less work Verizon has to do in upgrading networks in the still significant number of markets where they don't think FiOS is profitable.

Verizon continues by arguing that setting the base bar any higher will usher forth some kind of confusion apocalypse, given the broadband stimulus funds (which again, they didn't apply for) define broadband as 768 kbps/ 200 kbps. Of course this discussion is about our national goals, not the stimulus funds, and it seems fairly obvious to everybody but the carriers that this baseline goal (immediate or long term) should be higher than 200 kbps upstream.

How about symmetrical 2Mbps? Symmetrical 1Mbps? 1 Mbps / 768 kbps and a ham sandwich? I'm no physicist, but I'm fairly certain the wealthiest nation on the planet can set its broadband infrastructure baseline at something a little higher.

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