Jonathan Spalter

Reaching a Common Goal

Every morning across the U.S., Americans reach for their phones, tablets or laptops and start tapping out the first text message of the day, or check the feed on their favorite social media network.

Internet access has become a fabric woven into the daily lives of most Americans. Since 1996, internet service providers have invested $1.5 trillion into building networks that can provide the connectivity that American consumers and businesses demand.

Democratic lawmakers recently released a plan, “A Better Deal,” part of which takes aim at corporations, arguing that over the past 30 years, “corporate influence and consolidation has led to reductions in competition, choice for consumers, and bargaining power for workers.”

In the telecommunications industry, internet speeds and availability have increased every year. Currently, 95 percent of American households have access to at least one fixed (wired or wireless) broadband internet service provider offering service with 10 Mbps downloads (a federal definition for broadband in rural areas), while 72 percent have access to two providers or more, according to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission.

As policymakers rightly focus on ensuring every American has access to the benefits of broadband regardless of zip code, it is important we get the facts straight.

“Yet today, the market for those [telecommunications] services is so concentrated that consumers rarely have any meaningful choice of provider, and prices are high enough to be prohibitive for many.”

Wrong. According to data from the federal government (both the FCC and the Commerce Department), 89 percent of Americans have access to two or more fixed broadband internet services at home at any speed. About 99.5 percent of Americans also have access to wireless carriers offering 4G mobile, LTE internet service, with 98 percent able to choose from two providers or more.

“In over 50 million households, Americans have no choice at all for internet provider; they are forced to pay the exorbitant price their single carrier requires, if they get service at all.”

Wrong. There are currently about 2.5 million households which do not have access to any high-speed internet service via fixed broadband. Roughly 11.5 million only have access to one fixed provider, according to the most recent data from the FCC and Census. The 50 million figure only counts households with internet access of 25 Mbps. The FCC deliberately set the download speed definition of broadband in rural areas (which are eligible for USF funding) at 10 Mbps because of the high costs associated with providing faster service in remote areas.

“In fact, some reports have determined that Americans pay far more for high-speed internet access, cable television, and home phone lines than people in many other advanced countries – even though the services they receive are not any better.”

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans spent roughly 2.7 percent of their personal income on telecommunications services, such as pay-TV, internet and phone. That’s remained virtually unchanged since 2000. But Americans now get vastly more for each dollar spent: data traffic has grown by a factor of a thousand since then, 35 million dial up internet connections have given way to more than 369 million fixed and mobile broadband connections and tens of millions of Americans have now cut the cord thanks to the availability of video streaming services. A Boston Consulting Group study found that while Americans pay less than $500 per year for the internet, they get $3,000 in value.

“Access to cable and internet services are critical for American consumers, workers, and small businesses to communicate and compete in today’s economy.”

Agreed. Robust internet access is vital for consumers and the innovation economy, creating jobs and other economic opportunities, bringing healthcare services to remote parts of the U.S. and allowing students of all ages nearly unlimited educational materials, including books, virtual instruction and videos.

Internet service providers are not the enemy of the American people. Every day, thousands of ISP employees are in the field climbing poles, laying fiber and visiting homes across the U.S. to bring high-speed internet service to customers.

Focusing on issues that we all agree on – such as closing the digital divide in rural America and ensuring that all households have access to high-speed internet service – is surely more productive than crafting a narrative of demonization and finger-pointing at broadband providers which provide good jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans.

We look forward to working on a bipartisan basis with all lawmakers to ensure that the U.S. adopts policies that incentivize more investment in networks, more boots on the ground laying fiber and attaching cable to poles and providing more, better broadband service to the American people.