Sunday, June 23, 2024

FCC chair grilled on U.S.’s abysmal broadband speeds

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Walt demands answers!
Walt demands answers!
Source: Asa Mathat /

Well, Walt Mossberg sure let Kevin Martin have it last night at the D: All Things Digital conference, blasting the FCC chairman over the glacial pace of broadband rollout in the U.S.

“Not only do we have pathetic rates, but we pay more than most of these other countries for it,” Mossberg said.

“You’re the head of the FCC — how have you allowed this to happen?”

Martin responded with a typical counterargument: The difficulty in reducing costs and increasing speeds is due to the effort involved in wiring remote areas.

“I think you do have to put into context the demographics of the United States and some of the countries you’re competing against,” he said.

“If you actually look at some of those countries that are ahead of us on the charts, and look at their population density, and look at some of our states with similar population densities, you actually see that we have very comparable or actually higher broadband penetration.”

global broadband speeds
Broadband speeds globally
Sources: Highlight reel from / OECD and ITIF

But Walt wasn’t letting him off so easily.

“This is not a penetration chart,” Mossberg corrected. “This is an average speed chart … Of the people who have what we call broadband, we are very slow.”

Martin responded lamely: “We proposed … saying that we need to change our definition of what broadband is.”

To his credit, Martin later admitted that industry subsidies have been focused on encouraging development in “voice-grade” service, rather than broadband.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
Source: FCC

On one hand, you have to give it to Martin, who seems concerned about fostering innovation despite an entrenched, highly charged politicized environment in D.C. that typically demonstrates only the dimmest understanding of tech issues.

His task is made even more difficult thanks to the insanely deep pockets and shrill voices of the telecom lobby, though in some cases Martin has done a reasonable job of shrugging off their complaints about efforts like the recent spectrum auction.

(Though if Google hadn’t been involved, it’s unclear whether the auction would have been anything less than a disaster — and it really won’t be until we see Verizon Wireless’ new open network that we can truly claim the auction was a success.)

On the other hand, one has to wonder how focused the FCC is on solving the issue of consumer broadband speeds and costs, given its other perennial areas of concern.

You can watch video highlights from the talk here.

This article was first published on

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