Big Cable falls into wormhole to alternate universe, sends back blog post about USA's amazing broadband

You are wrong about internet speeds. Love, NCTA

Analysis In a striking example of corporate gaslighting, the US cable industry's trade association, the NCTA, claims that the defining characteristic of the US broadband market is competition.

"Competition isn't just the rule in television, it defines broadband markets as well," a new post by the organization argues. "In spite of living in one of the largest and most rural nations, 88 percent of American consumers can choose from at least two wired internet service providers."

It then goes on to congratulate itself over how internet speeds have "quadrupled over the last five years, from 23.4 Mbps to 86.5 Mbps [with] the average price per megabit dropping 90 percent in 10 years."

And it marvels at how "over the last 25 years, Americans have gone ... from screeching, sluggish dial-up internet access to multi-gigabit broadband internet." It concludes that: "Competition is alive and well in the TV and internet marketplaces and consumers are benefiting every day."

All of which probably comes as a shock to actual United States consumers – particularly those who have lived anywhere else in the developed Western world.

For those who have studied the broadband market in the US, "competition" is not the first word that springs to mind, but rather "collusion."

Literally a decade ago, this reporter was witness to the US government delegation – under pressure from the cable industry – preventing publication of an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report into broadband speeds and competition, because it put the country near the very bottom of the table. Things haven't changed much in the meantime.

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There is even an entire book – Captive Audience, written in 2013 – that goes into how the cable industry has managed to maximize its profits by offering slow speeds at high prices and carefully not competing with itself.

If the United States' broadband market were to be summed up in a phrase, it would be: "Take your pick: slow internet or fast internet." In 2017, Ford's car comes in both black and blue.

Even in the most wired part of the country, quite possibly the world – the San Francisco Bay Area – the choice of an internet connection above what the federal telecom regulator the FCC defines as "minimum broadband speed" (25Mbps) is typically delivered by a single operator, giving them enormous market power to set prices.

Low-speed internet options are also typically provided by a single operator – but with other companies allowed to buy it wholesale and then market it under their own name, giving the illusion of actual competition.

So how can the NCTA claim that "88 percent of American consumers can choose from at least two wired internet service providers"?

Well, it does so by travelling back in time. To 2014, in fact. If you click through the NCTA blog post to a second post, and then look at the small print, it is referencing a US Commerce report from December 2014.

Why 2014? Because at that time, the FCC defined "broadband" as being 4Mbps – which is enough for music streaming or email but will falter if you try to watch high-definition video – ie, Netflix – or attempt online gaming.

Just two months before that Commerce report came out, the then-chair of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, gave a damning indictment of the state of the broadband market, decrying the lack of competition and slow speeds available to US consumers.


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