(This story was originally published on 1776dc.com. 1776 is a startup incubator in Washington, D.C.)
In a speech yesterday at 1776, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced new plans to push for more competition between broadband providers, calling the current environment “lacking” of “meaningful competition.”
“Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections, both to take advantage of today’s new services and to incentivize the development of tomorrow’s innovations,” he said to a packed room of policy makers and entrepreneurs.
During his speech, Wheeler expressed strong beliefs that public policy should protect consumers and accelerate innovation, not stifle it. Incentivizing competition will set the bar set higher for broadband quality. It should also precede government regulation, he said.
“This is the country that invented the Internet,” Wheeler said. “The future starts here in the United States of America.”
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 75 percent of Americans have two or more choices of Internet providers if they want 4 Mbps access. Although this is the FCC’s definition of high-speed Internet, Wheeler criticized it as hugely outdated, calling it “yesterday’s broadband.” For comparison’s sake, a single high-definition video requires at least 5 Mbps to download.
Most Americans only have two choices of network providers, though urban-dwellers are significantly better off. They are three times more likely to have access to high-speed broadband than those who live in rural areas. With a technology gap that wide, education and business can take a serious hit.
“As bandwidth needs increase, we cannot tolerate the broadband digital divide getting larger,” he said.
To start moving forward, Wheeler laid out a four-point action plan, which he called the “Agenda for Broadband Competition.”
“First, where competition can exist, we will encourage it…Second, where greater competition can exist, we will encourage it,” he said. “Third, where meaningful competition is not available, the Commission will work to create it … Fourth, where competition cannot be expected to exist, we must shoulder the responsibility of promoting the deployment of broadband.”
The effects of improved bandwidth would be felt across the country, but they would be especially advantageous for tech startup founders such as Tyler Feret. Feret is the founder of Meridix Webcast Network, a business that provides schools and organizations with the tools to broadcast their own sports games, in essence, a do-it-yourself ESPN.
“If you look at the way that our business has grown, it’s basically been exactly in parallel with the way that broadband has grown. We’re audio-video, so the faster that gets on the customer’s end, the more services we can provide,” Feret said. “Any competition within that market, it gives people more choice. It increases the speed. If we had to be locked into an office to get these speeds, we probably wouldn’t exist as a company.”
Feret had the chance to meet with Wheeler following the chairman’s speech to discuss how increased broadband competition would help startups such as his.
Wheeler acknowledged his goals are lofty, though he said he feels confident they are achievable.
“The work of the Commission to implement this Agenda will never be done,” he said. “New technologies, innovation, and market developments will continually redefine the reality of broadband service. Our goal is that whatever the new realities may be, competition is the North Star.”