Additional Input Could Help FCC Promote Broadband Competition

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
WASHINGTON — Selected broadband experts and stakeholders told the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that infrastructure costs and other factors can limit broadband deployment and the extent of broadband competition. Factors these individuals identified included providers’ costs to deploy antennas, install wires or cables, and obtain permits to access existing infrastructure. Such infrastructure includes utility poles needed for deploying wired components of broadband networks. These costs can limit competition, particularly in non-urban and less populated areas, where providers’ return on investment can be lower due to fewer potential customers. Experts and stakeholders also identified industry consolidation and increasing similarity of fixed and mobile broadband as factors that are likely to affect broadband competition moving forward.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has undertaken rulemakings, spectrum auctions, and merger reviews to help promote competition, but lacks information on how well these actions promote competition. Despite such actions, about half of Americans have access to only one fixed provider (see figure). FCC has a process for seeking stakeholders’ and others’ input on broadband-related topics and annually reporting on these views, but does not solicit such input on its actions to promote competition. Such input could help FCC determine if any changes are needed to its actions to support competition relative to current and emerging factors in the broadband market.

Further, FCC’s annual reports contain some information on consumers’ experience with broadband competition, such as the number of provider options. However, these reports do not include stakeholder input on how the number of provider options affects prices and service. Some stakeholders said that competition was important to securing lower prices and better service, while others said competition does not necessarily lead to these benefits because some providers offer the same pricing and service quality everywhere regardless of whether they face competition in a particular location. Regularly seeking stakeholder input on how varying levels of broadband deployment affect price and service quality,could help FCC to better focus its efforts to secure lower prices and higher service quality service for consumers.


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