FCC Communications Marketplace Report Finds High Cable Prices, Uncompetitive Broadband Markets

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission adopted its first ever Communications Marketplace Report. The Report complies with new congressional requirements to streamline the Commission’s various communications reports into a comprehensive, consolidated review of the state of the communications ecosystem.

The following can be attributed to Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“This Report shows what most Americans already know: cable prices are too high and rising far faster than the rate of inflation and wages; broadband is not being deployed to communities on the wrong side of the digital divide; and consumers continue to have little, if any choice of broadband provider. It's simply a blatant admission that the Commission has not only failed to make progress on closing the digital divide, but is also eager to double down on policies that exacerbate trends that harm consumers, erode competition, and disregard the public interest. The American public and its newly elected Congress must demand action to curb these trends before it's too late.

“The Report confirms that four-firm competition in the wireless marketplace has helped drive lower prices and innovative service offerings for consumers. Additionally, the Report is a stark reminder that the wireless industry is already highly concentrated and that there are significant barriers to market entry by new competitors -- including access to spectrum. The data reported is a timely reminder that consumers, competition, and innovation will suffer if the proposed T-Mobile/Sprint merger goes forward.

“The Report also corroborates what every cable subscriber knows all too well -- cable prices have continued to rise far faster than the rate of inflation. Lack of competition in cable markets, along with substantial increases in the prices cable systems pay for retransmission of broadcast stations, are driving cable prices upward at an unsustainable rate, leaving consumers to increasingly abandon cable television altogether. However, instead of addressing this issue by promoting competition and discouraging further broadcaster consolidation, the Commission has doubled down on these discouraging trends by allowing the Comcast-NBCU merger conditions to expire and clearing away rules meant to ensure that broadcasters actually serve their local markets.

“In evaluating the availability and competition in the fixed broadband market, the Commission continues to rely on self-reported data by broadband providers and has been found to be inaccurate and overstates service availability in much of the U.S. The Commission also does not provide any data or analysis on fixed-broadband prices and whether networks are sufficiently secure, resilient, and reliable to ensure broadband is affordable and that consumers can use communications networks when most essential -- in times of emergency or disaster.

“While the Commission’s analysis details that the cost of deployment to rural communities continues to be a significant barrier to entry, the Commission fails to provide any leadership on how to overcome these barriers to deployment other than a tired and rote repetition that it will seek to eliminate regulations. The Commission continues to find that at a minimum, more than 25 million U.S. residents continue to lack access to broadband; yet, after nearly two years of allegedly prioritizing ‘closing the digital divide,’ the Commission appears to have no idea how to actually accomplish its stated goal.

“The Federal Communications Commission’s staff has accomplished a herculean task by collecting and consolidating a disparate array of detailed data and analysis into the agency’s first ever Communications Marketplace Report. The staff’s diligent work should be commended. However, the Report is a stark reminder that the Commission has repeatedly abdicated its authority, failed to provide leadership, and ducked its responsibilities under the Communications Act to ensure advanced communications services are competitive, available, and affordable for all.”

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