AT&T, Verizon and other Internet service providers (ISP) bombard us with advertising touting their fast download speeds. (Upload speeds, not so much.) The boasting always comes with an asterisk, though. The fine print gives reasons and circumstances when they might not deliver the speed we think we’re paying for.
The Federal Communications Commission has a plan, and funding, to upgrade Internet service in rural areas where consumers receive less attention from ISPs than in more densely-populated areas. Subsidizing services to rural America is historically in the purview of the federal government, as in delivery of mail and electricity. The F.C.C. has $20 billion to spend over ten years for areas underserved by ISPs. The money for this “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” comes from fees on telephone bills.
AT&T thinks this is a great idea. They’re ready to take the money. But they don’t like the part about providing faster download and upload speeds. USTelecom, the lobbying organization for AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon and others, argues that it’s too hard to provide the speeds required and it would cost them too much. They say that higher speeds, particularly upload speeds don’t make all that much difference anyway. They want the federal money without making significant network upgrades.
(The USTelecom public web site is full of innocuous prattle about their wanting the best for everyone but it’s very light on details.)
Oddly enough, groups representing small ISPs are exhorting the F.C.C. not to lower the download/upload requirements. The Fiber Broadband Association, which represents equipment vendors, ISPs, and others also is urging the F.C.C. to not lower the standards required for federal funds. The small guys apparently see it as an opportunity for them; the big guys contend they should get the money, well, because they should get it.
The Verizon guy in the TV commercials is so friendly and down to earth, we know that his and the company’s mission is to provide their customers with the best plans at the most reasonable costs. Just ask firefighters battling the blazes in California. Wireless communications are vital to provide and update information, manpower deployment and battle strategies. Imagine their surprise when service suddenly slowed to 1/200th of the normal speed. “It essentially rendered those very routine communications almost useless or completely ineffective,” said the Santa Clara County Fire Department captain whose team had been deployed to Lake and Mendocino counties in northern California.
Verizon Wireless had a simple explanation. The department had purchased an “unlimited” data plan, but when a certain usage threshold is reached, transmission speed slows precipitously. Verizon also had a simple solution: upgrade the plan at twice the cost.
Verizon said their practice is to remove data speed limits for emergency responders in emergency situations and they are “reviewing the situation” and “will fix any issues going forward.” They also said the speed restrictions had nothing to do with the Federal Communications Commission’s termination of net neutrality regulations that, among other things, had prevented Internet service providers from charging more for speeding up delivery of certain content. The three-Republican two-Democrat FCC, led by Trump appointee Ajit Pai, voted 3-2 to abolish the regulations.
“Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should give consumers equal access to all legal content and applications without favoring or blocking particular sources. The overall goal is to provide everyone with equal access to the internet. By promoting a free and equal internet, net neutrality ensures that an ISP is not dictating what kind of content the consumer — meaning you — is accessing online.”