FCC Releases Broadband Report Card


U.S. subscribers to high-speed Internet lines increased by 34% in 2004 to 37.9 million lines, according to the FCC's twice-a-year report on broadband deployment. 

The increase was 17% during the second half of 2004, from 32.5 million to 37.9 million lines. High-speed lines serving residential and small business subscribers increased by 36% during 2004, to 35.3 million lines.

The broadband deployment measurement is a benchmark used to gauge the success of government policy and industry efforts to build out the country's advanced communications network.

The rate of growth for very-high advanced services lines grew even faster than conventional high-speed lines, according to the FCC report.

Advanced services lines of all technology types increased by 42%, to 28.9 million lines, during 2004.

The FCC considers high-speed to be 200 kilobits per second, the rate of information flow comparable to a reader flipping one page of printed information to another, typically downloading. Advanced lines are connections that allow both downloads and uploads at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in both directions.

The FCC report also broke down adoption rates by platform and market

Cable modem service increased by 30% during 2004, to 21.4 million lines. Telephone digital subscriber lines (DSL) increased by 45%, to 13.8 million lines. The remaining 2.7 million high-speed connections in service at the end of 2004 were satellite or terrestrial wireless connections, power line connections, or wireline connections other than telephone DSL.

Telephone providers led the way in advanced services deployment, with lines increasing by 88%. Cable modem advanced services lines increased by 36%.

At the end of 2004, the service providers that report to the commission had at least one high-speed service subscriber in 95% of the nation’s zip codes. The FCC said 99% of the country’s population lives in those zip codes, an indication that nearly all citizens have access to at least one high-speed provider.

Because the U.S. ranks 12th globally in broadband subscribers, critics of FCC policies say the federal government hasn't done enough to encourage providers to deploy or keep costs low enough to encourage consumer adoption.

"This is a very important report that underscores the urgent need for Congress to update U.S. telecom laws to speed the broadband revolution well underway in the U.S. today," said Walter B. McCormick Jr., president and CEO of USTelecom, the telephone industry trade group. USTelecom wants the FCC to eliminate access rules requiring phone companies to carry competing ISPs over their DSL service. Cable has no such obligation.

On the other side of the issue, but also critical of the FCC's policies, is Center for Digital Democracy head Jeff Chester, who predicts telephone companies will get the deregulation they seek now that the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's hands-off-cable policy in the Brand X case.

The result will be the death of independent ISPs and possibly cable and telephone company interference with rival content providers, he says. "Both cable and telephone have a long history of anti-competitive behavior," he said. "Cable’s track record and financial 'genetic' disposition will see all kinds of content discrimination on broadband content blossom."