The Broadband Good News Free Press Doesn’t Want to Talk About

Free Press is hopping mad about a study conducted by the Progressive Policy Institute’s Hal Singer, which found that that the FCC’s March order reclassifying broadband service under Title II decreased broadband investment. The pro-Title II crowd quoted heavily from this Free Press “Fact Sheet” at this morning’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing:

Almost all of the observed first-quarter/second-quarter declines are due to AT&T. AT&T’s decline is due to its finishing Project VIP and returning to “normal” capex levels. AT&T told investors to expect this temporary bump and decline as far back as 2012.

“Project wha…?” you might ask. Project VIP is the biggest Internet news you’ve never heard of.

Last year, AT&T finished a $14 billion project to upgrade 75% of its wireline DSL footprint — which passes roughly half the homes in America — to new VDSL2 technology that is at least four times faster than ADSL technology. A Netflix HD stream takes somewhat under 4 Mbps. ADSL maxes out at 6 Mbps — so you can see the problem. But VDSL2 can provide 100+ Mbps service, depending on how far your home is from the nearest fiber node (e.g., 100 Mbps at 3400 feet).

Free Press would have you believe that the only answer is fiber-to-the-home gigabit service — and insists that the government has to provide it. That’s why they haven’t talked about Project VIP until now. Their breathless narrative revolves around a supposed “cable monopoly.” In fact, telcos are providing faster service than ever — and far faster than anyone will actually use. (Even 4K televisions, still exceedingly rare, require only 15 Mbps.)

The key is this: you can get gigabit (or more) speed out of copper pair wires or coaxial cable — if a fiber node is close enough. Verizon and Google get all the attention for deploying fiber straight to the home, but the investment that actually benefits consumers most is what telcos and cable companies are doing now: pushing fiber closer to the home so they can crank more speed out of the last however-many thousand feet.

TechFreedom explained how VDSL2 works in FCC comments we filed last year. And if you want even more background, read these comments by Adtran, a leading manufacturer of DSL equipment — explaining both VDSL2 and G.Fast, the next gen DSL protocol that gets gigabit+ speeds out of copper wire pairs by pushing fiber to the curb.

The point here is that telephone companies have figured out cost-effective ways to compete vigorously with cable to serve consumers — that is, offering far more speed than consumers actually demand today without the staggering expense of laying new wire to each home. (And cable, by the way, is doing the same with its DOCSIS upgrades.) Yes, Verizon took that plunge with its FiOS service, but based on the far greater population density of the Northeast — and the shabby state of its copper wires. AT&T and other telcos, serving the rest of the country, including very rural areas, are taking a more iterative approach, that provides higher speeds than demanded today, delaying huge expenses til later (when, by the way, Moore’s Law will make them cheaper).

If Free Press were actually interested in better broadband service for consumers, they’d have celebrated Project VIP months ago — and asking what government can do to help spur even more deployment. Like “Dig Once” conduits, which would make it cheaper for everyone — telcos, cable companies, Google and other fiber providers and yes, even municipalities — to deploy broadband.

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