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Lots of Internet competition - just not at home

Posted: Aug. 4, 2010 | Tags: broadband, Connected, FCC, Federal Communication Commission

This post also appears in the PostTech blog written by Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post. We’re working together on a project for the next several months looking at disparities of broadband access in Washington, D.C. The Obama administration has promised to expand high-speed Internet connections to all American homes. We look here, in the backyard of the nation’s capital, at the quality, speed and price of connections for residents.

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At first glance, the broadband market in the nation's capital appears to be pretty competitive - at least as far as the Federal Communications Commission is concerned.

The agency reports there are 35 providers of high-speed Internet service in the District of Columbia. But a closer look reveals what D.C. residents already know – most folks are lucky if they have three to choose from.

The Investigative Reporting Workshop researched all the companies that provide broadband in the District and learned that of the 35, only eight serve residential customers. That would still be an impressive number, but of those eight, three are satellite providers, whose relatively slow speeds and high cost make them attractive only in rural areas. Two more – DC Access LLC and Cavalier Telephone LLC – provide service only in limited areas.

That leaves three: Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and RCN Corp. (Not counting wireless providers AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.)

Coming up with a short list of providers in DC was a lot of work. Historically the FCC has refused to provide even the most basic information about broadband providers and their customers. The agency rarely names carriers and never provides specific information on price or connection speeds.

By Feb. 17, 2011, though, the government promises to cough up a little more information.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will post a “national broadband inventory map” on its website. The map will display broadband providers down to the Census block level. Unfortunately, no information on price or subscriber numbers will be provided and Internet connection speeds will be averaged over an entire metropolitan area.

The FCC’s “National Broadband Plan” concludes the government should do more. It should make sure consumers have “the pricing and performance information they need to choose the best broadband offers in the market.”

So far there’s been no action on the plan’s data recommendations.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield says the agency has taken action – through the launch of a broadband speed testing program, a “comprehensive initiative examining data collection and use policies” as  well as a public notice seeking input on how to measure mobile broadband performance. There may also be new rules proposed later in the year, he added.

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