The End of Broadband Service

The FCC reached a decision this week that could effectively end broadband service as we know it. The order hasn’t officially come out yet, but the result was leaked.

The FCC granted a petition by BellSouth to pre-empt state regulators from requiring “naked DSL.” The procedural aspects are convoluted, so the effect of that action may not be clear. Here’s what the FCC is saying. The local phone companies (and, although the ruling doesn’t specifically cover them, cable companies) are free to force customers to pay for phone service in order to get broadband. Whether or not you use the phone company’s voice service is immaterial — you have to pay for it. Although there are a few telcos willing to sell DSL as a stand-alone service (notably Qwest), one wonders if they will continue to do so.

The FCC ruling makes broadband an extension of phone service, rather than the reverse. It ties the data applications of the future to the anchor of the public switched telephone network. That’s perverse. Voice is the application, not connectivity. We’ll never have real competition if the incumbents get paid even when customers want to switch to a competitor.

I want to pay someone for high-speed data connectivity, with the opportunity to use (and pay for) innovative applications on top of that pipe. To me, that’s broadband service. After the FCC decision, that may no longer be available. That’s what I mean by the end of broadband as we know it. For the privilege of buying broadband, I’ll have to buy phone service or something else I don’t need, raising the effective price. This is the way to promote broadband adoption in the US?