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Carriers Aim to Keep Rural Broadband Under Their Thumb

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As the Federal Communications Commission tries to formulate a National Broadband plan, wireless carriers are seeking to classify their networks as an acceptable alternative to wired broadband, especially in rural areas. At the same time, those wireless carriers are also trying to convince the FCC that they don’t need to abide by principals of network neutrality. If they succeed, rural areas will be limited to wireless broadband, where carriers control what a subscriber can access on the Internet.

That means bandwidth-sucking applications such as peer-to-peer file transfers and even HD video downloads may be blocked or limited on wireless networks. There are valid technical reasons why carriers need to control such bandwidth-heavy apps over their wireless networks, but a blanket rejection of net neutrality could result in anti-competitive actions. Those actions may include blocking television redirection services from providers like Sling Media, which may be viewed as anti-competitive since carriers resell their own brand of over-the-air television from Qualcomm’s (s qcom) MediaFLO.

The wireless industry trade group CTIA argued in an April 13 filing to the FCC that wireless carriers should not have to abide by the FCC’s Broadband Policy Statement issued back in 2005 that promotes net neutrality. In the same filing, the CTIA asserted that mobile broadband should be considered an adequate replacement for wired broadband. Verizon is also trying to convince the FCC that wireless broadband should be counted when the FCC assesses nationwide broadband penetration. From Verizon’s (s vz) April 10 filing with the FCC:

The Commission’s survey of the broadband marketplaces in foreign countries should
include all of the various competitive alternatives that consumers and businesses may be using for broadband access, and in particular should capture wireless broadband services (a set of services often omitted from past international comparisons).

As carriers roll out faster, fourth-generation Long Term Evolution Networks with speeds that can range between 5 Mbps and 20 Mbps, wireless may be a viable option for rural broadband (provided those areas actually get LTE). However, if operators succeed in ditching network neutrality for their wireless networks, we would be left with a two-tiered system of broadband access, with a wireless tier that’s devoid of net neutrality. And if the FCC decides to let wireless broadband subscriptions substitute for wired broadband access in some areas of the country, those areas will still face a digital divide. But this time the divide won’t be distinguished by a lack of access or slow speeds, but by the limitations on applications and services running over the network.

26 Responses to “Carriers Aim to Keep Rural Broadband Under Their Thumb”

  1. Apparently, none of y’all live in rural areas, I mean REALLY rural, like where 3/4 of your neighbors are fields. We have satellite “broadband.” It’s in quote because of what a JOKE it is. Our monthly bandwidth limit is 12G. We REGULARLY run out and have the net slow to an absolute crawl. My daughters want to watch youtube, not constantly, just normally and they cannot. They get in trouble for clogging the pipes because of the limits. My husband and I often run close to the limit just with normal web surfing activities.

    And for this, we pay 4x what people in the nearest town (about 10 mi) and 10x what people in the nearest major metro area (less than 30 mi). We pay $100/mo for severely limited slower then DSL unreliable as f*ck service that goes out every time it rains and produces a massive number of transport errors every other time. In the city, they pay $40/mo for 5Mbps. In town, they pay the same for 3Mbps.

    I love living in the country, but GOD, I miss real broadband. And I don’t mean just for YouTube. You see, in early 2008, I lost a five-figure contract because the latency times on satellite “broadband” caused the Internet application I was supposed to document not to run at all. It cost me about $25K in business and alienated a major client.

    THIS is what the result of “letting the market decide,” folks. Because out here in the sticks, it’s NOT profitable to put in real broadband. Just like it wasn’t profitable to put in phones or electrical service. Yet somehow, we have those things. You see, back in the 30’s it was deemed an economic imperative for rural people to have phone and electricity. And broadband is the 21st century version of that imperative. My kids can’t even do school projects sometimes because of the unreliable internet.

    And don’t get me started on cell coverage. I get ONE bar outside my house. Often as not, I get NO bars in the house. And we have ONE carrier with any service at all: Verizon. And they are expensive and SUCK.

    Save me from the free market. There is an economic imperative to seeing that rural areas–many more rural than mine–get REAL, unlimited broadband. Otherwise, we really WILL end up being a nation of haves and have-nots.

    • Antiverizonist

      I share your feelings for Verizon, I live in an eare similar to your perhpas a little less rural seeing there is a small handfull of houses nearby. Same cell coverage here, by of course only Verizon. As for the phone service here the phonelines here were last replaced roughly in the 60’s. We have all we can to just to maintian reliable phone service here let alone broadband. The phone lines here are bad enough to where dialup dont even work right most time online spent reconecting.

      What really bites me is another nearby phone company Altell was bought out by Windstream, within 2 years they had replaced all of their copper lines, soon followed by the addition of DSL. That same company serves half the houses near where I live in fact two of them are with 300 yards of where i live, the line it self crosses our property. What I’d give to dissoconect from Verizon to connect to windstream. If a smaller company like Windsreamt can do it what can’t a corprate giant like Verizon do it.

  2. Mr. Anon

    I have been fighting my phone company and cable company for 6 years now.

    I live just outside a major city in the Southern US.

    DSL is only 5 minutes from my house.

    AT&T is the phone provider, and Comcast is the cable provider.

    Despite the fact that there are hundreds of homes in the area I live in served by these two mindless entities, they still refuse to upgrade their systems to provide broadband.

    Yes, my area is considered rural, but there are enough homes that it could be considered a ‘bedroom community’ of the large city we live near.

    The corporate entities in question try to argue that it would be too expensive to upgrade. AT&T quoted the cost of a DSLAM as being about $65,000.

    They claim it would cost too much, however each corporate entity clears several billion dollars each year in NET PROFIT AFTER ALL EXPENSES.

    You would think the management would wish to maximize all revenue streams from their customer base, and the cost to upgrade the systems would be a one-time charge. If they were to upgrade, they would definitely see a large increase in revenue from this area.

    But, despite the fact they could afford to pay out what they earn in a single day in net profit to upgrade the system in my area, they refuse.

    Needless to say, I do not want any kind of wireless broadband service, as most definitely there would be draconian caps on monthly bandwidth, among other issues (cell phone service is spotty where I live due to the terrain and other issues).

    Obviously there is nothing I can do.

    AT&T and Comcast do not give a damn about their customers. Even though the opportunity exists to increase their revenue stream from their customer base, they for some strange reason do not want to upgrade.

    It is most strange, as these two companies are extremely greedy, and will normally do everything in their power to squeeze every last cent out of their customer base in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

    But then, as the managers of these two corporate behemoths have an intellect somewhat lower than that of your average rock, it is not too entirely surprising.

    It is such a shame that the entire customer base of AT&T and Comcast are subject to the stupidity of the management of those two companies.

  3. John Keels

    LTE has a reasonable chance of providing wide service in rural areas. I think it will eventually win out as the rural alternative to DSL and Cable that are often not available. Still, the idea that VZ or ATT are going to severely limit access is ridiculous. Net neutrality is important even if the politicians in Washington don’t care (from either party it seems).

  4. John Keels

    LTE has a reasonable chance of providing wide service in rural areas. I think it will eventually win out as the rural alternative to DSL and Cable that are often not available. Still, the idea that VZ or ATT are going to severely limit access is ridiculous. Net neutrality is important even if the politicians in Washington don’t care (from either party it seems).

    • Stacey Higginbotham

      Brett, I am not trying to call you guys evil. I do say there are valid technical reasons why you guys want to constrain users. But I do think these are issues that should be talked about, and a blanket refusal to consider net neutrality doesn’t seem like the way to go. Maybe this is a religious argument with no possible common ground. But I hope we can work it out.

      Plus, I’m focused more on cellular wireless rather than rural WISPs. Verizon will not be limited by the T1 backhaul that I know you have to deal with.

      • Brett Glass

        Stacey, it has been impossible to me to find common ground with “network neutrality” activists. While my concerns are rooted in real world engineering principles (as well as the real world economics of providing quality broadband service), the lobbyists seem to have other motivations. Some of them are motivated by “religion” and refuse to accept reality. Some are in the pay of corporations. (For example, the New America Foundation and Public Knowledge, two DC lobbying groups, are both being paid by Google — ironically, the largest purveyor of spyware tracking cookies — to push for regulations and legislation that favor Google’s corporate agenda.) What’s more, no two of them even share a common definition of “network neutrality;” each has a definition that is tailored to its own agenda or that of its corporate sponsors.

        Regulation of the Internet is a bad idea. The Internet owes its success to the fact that it was NOT regulated and that the diverse participants in it could set their own rules for their own networks. (The Internet never could have existed, in fact, if this was not the case. For example, government agencies and universities — the two types of institutions who formed the Internet initially — could not have participated if they each were not allowed to create their own acceptable use policies, or AUPs, or set standards for user behavior.) And regulation would destroy small, independent, and rural providers such as ourselves — throwing our users off the Net and eliminating all competition. Want a duopoly? All you need to do is regulate in such a way that only large corporations, with buildings full of lawyers and the ability to cross-subsidize between services, can survive. And that’s exactly what “network neutrality” legislation would do.

        As for Verizon: You are incorrect when you say that it is not sensitive to the price of backhaul. Verizon operates cellular towers in many, many areas where it is not the incumbent local exchange carrier, and pays as much as any other competitor for transport to those towers. What’s more, it’s paying for spectrum, which is almost unimaginably expensive. (In our area, they paid $13 per MHz for every man, woman, and child, regardless of whether that person was a customer.) And they’re in a worse bind than we are in terms of exhausting capacity. Our radios can transmit at 54 Mbps. Theirs are cellular radios and have to deal with mobile as well as fixed devices; the highest speed you can realistically expect from them is 3 Mbps.

        Stacey, please understand the facts — the true realities of the business — before writing about these things.

  5. I miss when restrictions were still a distant future possibility. Why bother with all the complexity? Let the market determine bandwidth needs and costs and stop trying to fix problems that don’t exist with overly complex regulation and government control! How many examples do we need to make before we realize over-regulation does not help the economy… It will NOT help the internet economy. I say the FCC needs to butt out – and that this whole thing constitutes unnecessary infringement that is ONLY necessary if you’re trying to gain control and tamp down freedoms. If you have to give it to a government department, give it to the post office. At least they stay within their budget and make sure the mail arrives.

    • Brett Glass

      Ironically, the Postal Service is continuing to adjust the cost of stamps as its costs increase. And it has always charged more to transport a heavier package. Yet, when broadband providers merely try to do the same (now that customers are streaming video and using lots and lots of expensive bandwidth), we see articles like the one above condemning them for doing so… and in fact asking the government to stop them from doing so.

      • Honestly speaking you sir need to do some quick background info research before saying ignorant stuff. Bandwith is unlimited it’s simply data that transfers between a wire. They pay by megabyte and not by DATA. So when they sell you a 15 mbit line, it shouldn’t matter how much you download, they’ve already paid for it.

        Second lol don’t compare something that needs to fit on a truck, be driven across the country, and is completely different from bandwidth, to something infinite like bandwidth.

        If you ran a local lan network you’ll know that your speeds are limited by megabit not by bandwidth.

      • Brett Glass

        Sorry to puncture your fantasies, Vahid, but bandwidth is far from infinite and costs quite a bit of money. As an ISP, I have plenty of big bills to prove that. And if I don’t buy enough to cover peak usage, users complain and quit.

        You also obviously don’t understand that when an ISP sells a connection to a residential user, it isn’t selling that user a connection that can be 100% saturated without a surcharge. If it were, a 1.5 Mbps connection would cost $300 to $600 per month — the price of a dedicated T1 line.

        There’s no “bandwidth fairy,” Vahid. I don’t get it for free, and I can’t give it away for nothing.

      • Javier

        Yes Brett, we know that that you have a financial stake in controlling internet communications. However in regards to Net neutrality and your postal service analogy, the post office does not discriminate between packages. I would also like to note that it is the responsibility of the ISPs to adjust to our needs (more bandwidth) we should not have to adjust to theirs, WE PAY THE MONEY! I will say that again. WE PAY THE MONEY! If they can’t handle providing the services required of them, they should get out of the game and let less greedy people do the job. Bandwidth caps are about controlling online content. ISP’s should not even be allowed to even offer media content and internet access when it is a clear conflict of interest. Being a Internet Service Provider is a privilege, not a God given right.