Broadband Speed in America: Snail Pulling a Collection of AT&T et al. Paid Off or Clueless Regulators in a Clown Car.

With the calls for higher speeds for broadband and a current FCC proceeding now discussing 100 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload speeds as the new American standard, we need to add some very sobering facts about the last 30 years as a warning sign of what is going to happen based on history.

  • We divide this discussion into 2 parts. This is Part 1.

AT&T’s 21 States with 200 Kbps that Didn’t Show Up.

My personal favorite moment regarding the speed of broadband in America was AT&T’s merger with BellSouth. The merger was supposed to cover 100% of their 21 state territory and give everyone broadband at — 200 Kbps in 1 direction, at least, by the end of 2007. (At least 85% had to be a wired solution, leaving 15% that could be wireless.)

Map of AT&T’s 21 State Territory, which is a collection of state-based telecommunications public utilities.

I decided to just cut out the actual text from the AT&T-BellSouth merger agreement as someone might suggest that I was making this up. This is a merger condition to cover 21 states with broadband and yet, even at this pathetic speed, which can’t do video in 1 direction, (while the ‘upstream’ was never addressed), this laid out the foundation of the Digital Divide; AT&T just didn’t care about bringing real broadband and real competition in 21 states and the FCC was complacent in all of this.

And, what was most telling about the conditions of the merger agreement, wasn’t that it was based on an absurdly slow download speed that couldn’t handle content rich websites or even do basic video streaming. No. AT&T promised to have 100% of the buildout completed by the end of 2007, and there was no way that AT&T could complete this in this time-frame.

Unfortunately by 2015, it became obvious (as we laid out in a complaint with the FCC), that AT&T committed perjury because they claimed that they had fulfilled their obligations, yet statements made in 2013 and 2015 in their other filings showed that at least 25% of AT&T’s 21 state footprint would never have the upgrade completed even at this snails’ pace download speed.

Speeds 200 Kbps in One Direction is Really SLLLLOOOOWWWW!

The “downstream” (download) speed is the service coming to you. The “upstream” (upload) speed is the speed from you — i.e., in a Zoom call or when you upload a very large text or image file, the speed of the video you see is downstream; the speed of the video of you is ‘upstream’.

And 200 Kbps:

  • 200 Kbps is 1/5 of 1 Mbps

The Speed of Broadband Service in 1993 Was Supposed to be 45 Mbps in Both Directions.

Going back in time, the speed of broadband in 1993, as stated in the New Jersey Board of Public Utility orders, was defined as 45 Mbps in both directions, which was relatively fast then. And since it was the same speed in both directions, it is referred to as “symmetrical”. When the upload speed and the download speed are not the same, this is referred to as “asymmetrical”.

And this symmetrical speed of internet service was the US standard in 1993, as defined by multiple state fiber optic plans and moreover, quoted by the legendary Harry Newton’s Telecom Dictionary.

Politically Correct; Screw America

But to expose a dark secret — if the speed of broadband was 45 Mbps as laid out in state laws, and the networks were supposed to be fiber replacing the existing copper wires, as was the plan of the Information Superhighway, then how the hell did the speed get sliced to 200 Kbps?

FCC Broadband Reports to Congress: A Fairy-tale.

The first FCC “Advanced Network” report, in 1998–1999 was supposed to end up being the FCC’s official report to Congress to determine if broadband is being deployed in a timely manner and reasonable fashion.

Then-FCC Chairman William Kennard states in 1999:

“As today’s Report concludes, we see billions of dollars being invested in broadband and an extraordinary level of infrastructure deployment. Advanced telecommunications capabilities are being rolled out in this country at a rate that outpaces the rollout of previous breakthrough products and services in the communications field. So, by this objective measure at least, we are ahead of the curve”.

Kennard is now the chairman of AT&T’s board of advisors and he could have read the state reports and our filings but instead acted a corporate cheerleader — front seat in the clown car.

Then-FCC Commissioner Tristani had a different point of view:

“I am especially concerned about the lack of hard evidence when it comes to our obligation to determine that advanced telecommunications services are being deployed, and are available, to ‘all Americans.’ Being from a rural state, I know the importance and the challenges of ensuring that all areas of our country have access to the kind of services covered by Section 706.”

All this sound familiar, two decades later?

Even though we pointed out in various filings that the speeds in the state orders was 45 Mbps, the FCC decided to ignore every and all references to the broadband plans in the states — or the slower than the turtle speed.

For example, a groups of experts, small ISP competitors and advocates filed a petition to have the advanced network report be redone to reflect the fact that the states had changed the state laws to fund fiber optic deployments in virtually every state, which were never deployed, but which ended up charging local telephone customers for upgraded networks they never received.

See: The FCC Rewrote America’s Broadband History through Vigorous Ignorance.

And this is critical — No state broadband plan was ever addressed in the Advanced Network Reports over the next 22 years. No state upgrade commitments, including failures to complete the deployments, spending the monies claimed, that were based on the direct rate increases for broadband services, not to mention the rate increases on basic local service, or the illegal transference of the construction budgets to the wireless services, all resulted in letting the entire state telecommunications utilities to deteriorate.

Speed, then, isn’t just a number but a political/corporate game — and the idea that you can eliminate thousands of documents in every state for 20 years, has always been perplexing.

ADSL — Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line — A Bait-and-Switch Scam.

We would be remiss if we didn’t add the story of ADSL, “Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line” , which is a copper based service, considered inferior in 1992. Since the telcos failed to roll out fiber optic services, starting around 1995, this new thing called the “Internet” or ”World Wide Web” was exploding — and people wanted speed. By 1998, Verizon et al. started rolling out a copper based service that would provide a faster broadband service then “Dial Up”.

“Dialup” is the original way to go online. Your computer is attached to your telephone line and there is a box (a modem) that dials up an Internet Service Provider, “ISP” or goes to an online location, like going to America Online (AOL).

By 1998, then, the FCC wanted to show that broadband was being deployed in a timely manner and it decided to inflate the total number, so it set the bar so low that ADSL, even the slower versions, would do the ‘limbo’ and pass the bar to meet the FCC’s broadband standard.

What are the lessons from this? We’ll come back to that in Part 2.

“100 Mbps Hype”: Say Anything, Anytime.

Round numbers are always better to use, and 100 Mbps has been around and used as essential hype for vaporware speeds for decades.

America’s National Broadband plan, released in 2010, included 100 Mbps speeds as a goal by 2020. As told by Wikipedia:

“An official website for the plan, broadband.gov, highlighted energy and environment features. Other goals listed were ‘21st century care’, ‘economic opportunity’, ‘health care’, ‘civic engagement’ and ‘public safety’. Broadband maps, tests and reporting of ‘broadband dead zones’ were also featured. Another goal was providing 100 million American households with access to 100 Mbit/s (megabits per second) connections by 2020. Large areas of the United States would be wired for Internet access, and the federal Rural Utilities Service providing some rural areas with landline telephone service would be upgraded. The plan called for broadcasters to give up spectrum for wireless broadband access.”

In 2013–85% of America Can Get 100 Mbps Speeds.

Speaking at the annual ‘Cable Show”, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, now the head of the NCTA, stated that in 2013, 85% of America could get 100 Mbps, June 10th, 2013.

“Standing solo in front of a staggering 72-foot uninterrupted projection screen, Powell took stock of everything the cable industry has delivered over the last sixty years. From amazing television [programming] to some of the fastest broadband Internet on earth, the past, present, and future of cable was laid out in a fashion befitting an industry dedicated to technology and storytelling….We saw everything from the original sounds of a dial-up modem to the latest numbers in rural broadband investments and penetration. 93% of America can connect to cable Internet and 85% have access to speeds over 100 Mbps.”

Michael Powell is currently the head of the cable association, NCTA. Under his FCC regime he allowed the close-down of competition and blocked the use of the networks by competitors. This led to more mergers, like AT&T-BellSouth, and the creation of net neutrality concerns. Just another clown in the car.

2013: FCC Published Report Shows 156,000 Customers with Over 100 Mbps Speeds.

The FCC’s report published in 2013 on Internet Access (data from 2012) had only 156,000 customers — TOTAL, who actually had over 100 Mbps download speeds. Even more incredible, there is no information about the upload speeds.

These two examples are using different metrics as NCTA CEO Powell’s bullsheet number is based on customers ‘capable’ of getting the service, i.e., the equipment being installed can allow for the high speeds, vs the recorded number of customers who actually are using 100 Mbps. In both cases, the speed was only for ‘download’.

Commissioner, now-Chairman FCC Jessica Rosenworcel stated, quoting the hype:

“Today’s report shows real progress in the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans. It reveals that for some, broadband services are faster and more robust than ever. Consider, for instance, that more than 80 percent of households now have access to broadband at speeds as high as 100 Mbps.”

2014: 59% of America Can Get 100 Mbps Download Speed

According to Ars Technica:

“Fifty-nine percent of the US population can buy service of at least 100 Mbps download speed, according to the Department of Commerce report released yesterday. But only eight percent can choose from at least two 100 Mbps providers, and just one percent can choose from three.”

Wait,

2021: Former NY Governor Cuomo’s press conference at the beginning of 2021 announced 98% of New York State was covered:

“…his investment, coupled with regulatory reforms, expanded the reach of broadband so today 98 percent of New York households have access to high-speed broadband with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps.”

Part 1: To Summarize:

  • The US States, like New Jersey, were to have a fiber optic future. In 1993, Verizon NJ was granted deregulation so that there would be more profits to be used to upgrade the existing copper-based state utilities to a fiber optics network. Verizon NJ committed to speeds of 45 Mbps in both directions (up to and higher) starting in 1996.

Part 2: Let’s open up the doors of the clown car to reveal how these various numbers were established and what America needs to know about the upcoming manipulation of our Digital Future.

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Bruce Kushnick

New Networks Institute,Executive Director, & Founding Member, IRREGULATORS; Telecom analyst for 40 years, and I have been playing the piano for 65 years.