AT&T Fights Against New Broadband Definitions, Insists 10 Mbps Upstream Is Good Enough

from the less-is-more dept

In early March, Senators pushed the Biden FCC to update our fairly pathetic definition of broadband, which is currently anything 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. The Senators proposed something closer to 100 Mbps in both directions, a definition mirrored in a new broadband bill recently introduced in the House.

As they've done every single time anybody has tried to improve the US definition of broadband, ISPs have started to fight back against any changes. After all, when you increase the definition of broadband, you only further advertise the fact that monopolization has resulted in spotty coverage and slow broadband speeds across most of US. As a result there's virtually no real competition at speeds of 100 Mbps or above in the United States.

Enter AT&T, which, in a blog post last week, argued both against subsidizing ultra-fast fiber deployments across the US, while also trying to argue that 10 Mbps upload speeds are good enough for Americans:

"[T]here would be significant additional cost to deploy fiber to virtually every home and small business in the country, when at present there is no compelling evidence that those expenditures are justified over the service quality of a 50/10 or 100/20Mbps product."

For context, AT&T has a long, long, history of taking taxpayer subsidies and massive tax breaks for fiber networks it then fails to deliver. It also has a very long history of skimping on network upgrades and repairs, which is why only 14.93 million of the 52.97 million households in AT&T's 21-state wireline service have access to actual, full fiber broadband. It's also why the company is continually under fire for letting its taxpayer subsidized DSL networks simply fall apart.

In its blog post, AT&T also takes some time to complain about "overbuilding," which is the industry's fancy term for a little something called "competition":

"Second, as noted above, adopting a symmetrical standard could result in overbuilding existing services today, including existing asymmetrical services that are currently meeting modern connectivity needs. My home internet connection delivers service at 300 Mbps down but only 20 Mbps up, yet it is a service that has supported my household reliably throughout the last year. Overbuilding such solutions would needlessly devalue private investment and waste broadband-directed dollars."

AT&T's rhetorical flourishes aside, the company is only really worried about two things here. One being a higher broadband standard that highlights how the company (in fact much of the industry) has skimped on upgrades despite billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors. The other is a subsidization process that holds bidders to a higher speed standard, something that might just result in more smaller companies providing AT&T with competition in many of its markets. AT&T can't just come out and say this, so instead you get clever blog posts that attempt to obfuscate the company's real motivations.

As Ars Technica notes, this is all fairly well-tread territory. When the FCC raised the definition of broadband from 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream -- to 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream back in 2015, we saw much of the same consternation from industry and loyal lawmakers. Less discussed by Congress (or the press) is the fact that if America ever bothered to audit the billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors thrown at industry, they'd find that Americans likely have already paid for fiber to every home in America several times over.

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Filed Under: broadband, definitions, fcc
Companies: at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2021 @ 12:47pm

    Funny how it wasn't overbuilding 20 years ago when they tried to convince everyone that FTTH/FTTN was going to be huge and that they should pay for it. In fact, once you bought an FTTx subscription, you could never go back to DSL with the same provider.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason, 31 Mar 2021 @ 1:18pm

    ...adopting a symmetrical standard could result in overbuilding existing services today, including existing asymmetrical services that are currently meeting modern connectivity needs.

    Why in the world would you want to build something that gives you room to grow in the future? Quite the stumper, that one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:08am

      Re: The Quiet Part

      Well he can’t just come out and say that future-proofing their network would make it impossible to milk subsidies and tax considerations when we get to the point of actually needing an upgraded network.

      They could take the money now, but they can probably get a sweeter deal when they’re holding the whole country by the balls. Plus they can avoid that pesky competition thing from municipal networks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Mar 2021 @ 1:49pm

    Well if that's your argument...

    If they want to argue that the current connections are fine then it seems they just made clear that they don't need any more taxpayer subsidies or tax breaks to roll out better connections, as all they'll be doing is maintenance for what they've already got.

    Be a shame to let all that money just sit around though, guess the only option is to start throwing it at community broadband efforts that do think that a better connection might be a good idea, I'm sure they can find a use for hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 31 Mar 2021 @ 2:57pm

    My home internet connection delivers service at 300 Mbps down but only 20 Mbps up, yet it is a service that has supported my household reliably throughout the last year.

    Wish I had those kinds of speeds.. gee a company spokesperson getting top end service, most likely at an extreme discount.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:04am

      Re:

      I was actually thinking how incredible it was that a spokesperson didn't have higher speeds than that.

      Then again, if people saw that the company actually had 500+ speeds, they might start to get annoyed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sd70mac (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 12:40am

      Re: throughput

      Ironically, 300 Mbps down, 20 Mbps up is not a package that AT&T offers home users; anything over 100 Mbps is symmetrical for home or small businesses, and 100 Mbps service is symmetrical when delivered over fiber instead of VDSL (it is 20 Mbps up on VDSL). 300/20 is a common cable Internet tier, however.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Mar 2021 @ 3:47pm

    How much have they taken out of USF in the last decade?
    How much has service speeds improved in that time?

    Now lets take that amount from the USF and offer grants to cities & towns to buildout munifiber & see what speeds they can get.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ddwornik, 31 Mar 2021 @ 4:55pm

    I wish I could get 50/10

    I have Comcast, 200/5 (it starts to get expensive if you want more than 5 up).

    Live streaming is a thing now, and gaining in popularity. I am willing to accept some level of asymmetry is fine, but really the minimum should be 50/25 at this point.

    Consumer services exist that need it, it's no longer exotic with 4k and streaming. Until recently I was very happy with my 25/5 (living alone), it wasn't perfect, but it was pretty comprehensive.

    Times change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2021 @ 5:39pm

    It's honestly kind of surprising Richard Bennett hasn't been seen ranting about how only pirates and gamers would only ever need high Internet connectivity. It was an argument he was still all too keen to push during the pandemic.

    Anyone else check under Ajit Pai's desk lately?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Strawb (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:07am

    Having a 1000/100 connection for the price equivalent of 50 bucks in Scandinavia, it's quite incredible how third-world-esque the broadband landscape is in the States.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:31am

    What does AT&T require for working from home for them

    Hybrid work (that is some work from home) takes some minimum internet connection quality

    What is the minimum quality AT&T regularly builds out for their executives and managers to be productive? That seems to be a good starting point for what should be available for the rest of America.

    Unfortunately available may not mean affordable, but that is what subsidies are for. In this scheme what is good for the gander sets the standard for the geese.

    Of course, this standard will cause some additional transparency games in Telcos on who is an executive or manager and what is 'productive' :) Expect hilarity to ensue.

    Of course we all got the sports package! The 200Mbs upload speed is not necessary to my work productivity!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    freakanatcha (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 2:35pm

    AT&T is a pantload

    Perhaps the U.S. broadband standard should be speeds must be faster than Croatia's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2021 @ 3:01pm

    I will literally pay for at&t to go under now and somone else move in.

    That’s ho much I want this company gone

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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