WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, for the fourth time since 2010, the FCC voted to issue an annual Broadband Deployment Report claiming that U.S. broadband deployment has not been “reasonable and timely” (based on December 2013 market data). The report justified this determination, which the FCC is required to make by Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, by raising its speed benchmark from 4 Mbps (enough for one Netflix HD stream) to 25 Mbps (enough for seven simultaneous HD streams). Last week, TechFreedom filed a written ex parte highlighting the good news about broadband deployment in 2013 and 2014, and urging the FCC not to distort its assessment of broadband deployment by arbitrarily raising its speed benchmark.

“The FCC has been playing political games with the 706 report since 2010, when it suddenly declared deployment inadequate in order to justify its net neutrality regulations,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Just a month ago, Wheeler raised the speed benchmark 250% — to 10 Mbps. Now he’s raising it by another 250%, and assessing 2013 deployment data by the ‘need’ of the top 1% that had 4K televisions that year. This new threshold may titillate John Oliver’s clicktivist ‘monsters,’ but it’s a new low in cynical, elitist politics at the FCC: Repeatedly raising the speed benchmark allows Wheeler to thump his chest about faster speeds even as he pushes through a reckless, ideologically-driven regulatory agenda that would, in fact, slow the investment needed to drive speed upgrades. Tom Wheeler would rather talk about broadband upgrades than actually help ensure they happen.”

“Pretending broadband providers aren’t staying ahead of user demand provides some political and legal cover for Wheeler to justify the two biggest power grabs in FCC history,” continued Szoka. “First, the more negative the FCC’s depiction of the broadband market, the more emboldened it will be to exercise the power it has, absurdly, claimed under Section 706 to regulate the entire Internet. Wheeler’s plan to use 706 to preempt state laws on muni broadband is just more political theater, since it’s sure to fail in court on federalism grounds. Next up may be FCC regulation of privacy and cybersecurity — Silicon Valley, beware! Second, Wheeler will cite the supposed lack of broadband competition to justify reclassifying broadband under Title II rules designed for true monopolies — and to back off his promises of broad forbearance from Title II’s many unnecessary provisions.”

“Meanwhile, in the real world, the broadband picture has never been brighter. 2013 saw continued increases in broadband speeds, and the U.S. far outstripped the rest of the world in mobile broadband,” concluded Szoka. “2014 also saw massive upgrades of outdated telco DSL networks to next-generation VDSL2 technologies, bringing 25+ Mbps service to over half the country, but you won’t see any of that in the report because it’s based entirely on 2013 data — measured against a benchmark that won’t be needed for years. The sooner the FCC stops playing Report Theater, the sooner we can focus on what Congress intended: ensuring that all Americans have meaningful Internet access, not the ‘needs’ of urban elites and — and the sooner we can focus on making private broadband deployment easier, especially by new players like Google Fiber.”


  • The FCC’s own data show that the number of connections of at least 10 Mbps increased by 104% in 2013.
  • In 2013, U.S. carriers spent about four times more on network infrastructure per subscriber than the rest of the world, and 4G LTE networks reaching 30% of Americans, compared to just 4% of Europeans.
  • An estimated 2% of Americans have a 4K television and not until 2018 is the number expected to reach even 10%.
  • Americans sit an average of 7-10’ from their televisions. At 8’, the difference between HD and 4K is imperceptible on screens smaller than 60”. At 10’, the screen must be at least 75’.
  • Netflix has admitted that a 4K stream will only require 15 Mbps anyway but consistently overstates its ‘recommendations’. Even on Google Fiber’s 1,000 Mbps service, the average Netflix streaming speed is just 3.7 Mbps.

Szoka can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org, and and see our other work on Section 706 and promoting broadband deployment, including:

  • “The FCC’s Section 706 Power Grab is Dangerous, and Ignores Marketplace Realities,” a summary of our comments on the FCC’s annual report on broadband deployment
  • “The Feds Lost on Net Neutrality, But Won Control of the Internet,” Berin Szoka and Geoffrey Manne in Wired.com
  • “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition,” Berin Szoka and Jon Henke in Wired.com
  • “Net Neutrality Regulation is Bad for Consumers and Probably Illegal,” a summary of TechFreedom’s legal comments to the FCC on Net Neutrality
  • A Third Way on Muni Broadband, TechFreedom & ICLE statement, summarizing comments opposing petitions asking the FCC to preempt state laws governing muni broadband