fcc_newFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had harsh words for broadband providers today, essentially accusing them of hypocrisy in their comments about broadband speed requirements. Wheeler’s comments came at today’s FCC meeting, at which the commission adopted a new definition of broadband of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream for purposes of gauging whether broadband service is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.

“Somebody is telling us one thing and telling consumers another,” said Wheeler of the broadband providers.

To support his argument Wheeler contrasted regulatory filings from AT&T, Verizon and Comcast with marketing statements made by those companies. He noted, for example, that Verizon said in a regulatory filing that “consumers continue to find [4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream] meets their needs and a higher benchmark would serve no purpose.” (The 4/1 Mbps comment refers to the previous target speed used for the broadband progress report.)

Wheeler noted, however, that in marketing materials for its FiOS broadband service, Verizon says that “While FiOS provides a lot of speed you would be surprised how fast it goes.” The company recommends speeds of 25/25 Mbps for homes in which one to three devices are simultaneously connected to broadband and speeds of 50/50 Mbps for homes with three to five simultaneously connected devices.”

He also referenced similar contradictory statements from AT&T and Comcast, and also noted that Time Warner Cable offers a web page link that lets customers enter information about how they use broadband in order to choose the correct speed service and that those results are “far more” than the previous 4/1 Mbps target and also are higher than the 10/1 Mbps minimum speed recently established for the Connect America Fund.

“Our challenge is not to hide behind self-serving lobby statements” but instead to set reasonable speed targets, Wheeler said.

The service providers likely advocated the lower speed targets in regulatory filings because they would like the broadband progress report to indicate they were doing a good job with their deployments.

The 25 Mbps Broadband Definition
Wheeler hinted last month that the FCC would be raising the speed target and issuing a negative broadband progress report, which would show that 17% of Americans live in areas where 25/3 Mbps service is not available. Both the higher speed target and the negative progress report were adopted today – but not unanimously.

Both Republican commissioners voted against the new target speed and the report. Republican commissioner Ajit Pai accused his Democratic colleagues of upping the target so that the report findings would be negative. “A thriving industry must be found to have failed so the [commission] can regulate it,” he said sarcastically.

Pai also questioned why a 25/3 Mbps broadband definition should be used for the report while a lower 10/1 Mbps definition will be used for the CAF program.

Wheeler’s response was that for the CAF program, the 10/1 Mbps speed is “the minimum we support because we expect more.”