Lawmakers question FCC's 'troubling' actions on broadband

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Two influential House members say the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is inconsistent in the way it measures whether high-speed Internet is being deployed effectively.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the leader of the panel’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday to question the way the agency has reported on the state of broadband deployment.

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“Since 2011, it appears that the Commission has applied inconsistent definitions and analyses in making those determinations. Those reports have then been used to justify Commission actions to intervene in seemingly competitive markets,” they wrote. “This behavior concerns us.”

Every year, the commission is required to report on the state of broadband nationally and whether “advanced telecommunications capability” is being deployed to all in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” If it isn’t, the FCC is allowed to take steps to speed up deployment.

The commission voted last year to raise the minimum speeds needed for Internet service to be considered broadband, forcing Internet service providers to reevaluate their offerings. Previously, Internet service with download speeds of 4 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps constituted broadband; now, broadband’s benchmark speed is 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

Critics of the agency’s decision say that they changed the definition to give them more authority over the broadband marketplace, which they often link to the landmark net neutrality rules approved last year.

Upton and Walden took issue with what they said was inconsistency in the way the agency defines broadband.

“Instead of uniformity of definition, the Committee has instead made broadband speed a variable in the regulatory equation,” they said. “This represents the latest in [a] series of troubling actions that distort — or outright ignore — the FCC’s requirements to produce honest, data-driven reports to inform policymakers and the public.”

They also questioned how the commission has measured competition for wireless Internet and actions it has taken with regard to the marketplace for video.

The committee said it would hold a hearing on the FCC in March, though they did not specify what the agenda would be. An FCC representative said the agency had received the letter and is in the process of reviewing it.

The message came not long after the FCC issued its 2016 report on the broadband market. It once again found that advanced telecommunications capability was not being deployed to Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.