Responding to a recent House inquiry, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the FCC’s findings in recent Congressional reports that the U.S. broadband market is not effectively competitive and that a definitive conclusion regarding the competitive state of the U.S. wireless market cannot be reached. In a February 26 letter that was released to the public last Friday, Wheeler addressed recent correspondence by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (RMI) and House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) raising questions concerning the FCC’s procedures for assessing the state of competition in the broadband, wireless and multichannel video program distribution (MVPD) sectors. Writing to Wheeler on February 5, Upton and Walden claimed that, over the past five years, the FCC “has applied inconsistent definitions and analyses” in determining the competitive state of the broadband, wireless and MVPD sectors. The lawmakers also asked Wheeler to (1) address changes in the FCC’s definition of broadband services since 2010, (2) why the FCC “continues to fail to make a competitive finding for the wireless market,” and (3) why the agency “does not have a definition of competition that it applies consistently.”
On the subject of broadband, Wheeler informed Upton and Walden that “different statutory directives and contexts . . . may call for different metrics” in measuring minimum broadband speed thresholds. He also emphasized that “the Commission has a responsibility within the context of its various efforts to maximize the availability and adoption of broadband to establish appropriate broadband service measurements.” Wheeler also highlighted FCC efforts to promote broadband deployment and investment, including: among others, (1) the launch of the Broadband Acceleration Initiative in 2011, (2) the award of Mobility Fund support, and (3) the adoption of rules in 2014 to modernize the Universal Service E-Rate program. Furthermore, Wheeler noted that the FCC had cited recent industry accomplishments as part of its 2016 broadband progress report that included the expansion of AT&T’s wireline IP broadband network to 57 million customer locations and tests of next-generation broadband services at speeds in excess of 10 Gbps across the Verizon FiOS network.
Meanwhile, Wheeler acknowledged that, within the context of mobile wireless broadband, “there is no definition of the general term ‘effective competition’ that is widely accepted by economists or competition authorities.” As such, and citing “the complexity of inter-related segments and services within the mobile wireless ecosystem,” Wheeler told Upton and Walden that the FCC’s market analyses in recent reports to Congress “led to a determination that any single conclusion regarding the effectiveness of competition would be incomplete and potentially misleading.”