FCC Commissioner Calls For Examination Of Broadband Price Hikes

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn 

Federal Communications Commission member Mignon Clyburn said Wednesday that recent broadband price hikes "should raise a red flag" for the commission. "When prices rise across the industry, and where there are only a limited number of players in the game, we have to ask ourselves whether there is any meaningful competition in the marketplace," she said.

Clyburn didn't mention any broadband companies by name, but her statement obviously referred to recent reports that Comcast and AT&T are rolling out rate hikes.

This week, it emerged that Comcast will raise rates for some services by $2 a month in the New Jersey area. Subscribers who purchase "economy" 1 Mbps downstream service, and don't bundle it with other features, will see prices increase to $40.95; subscribers to 12 Mbps "performance" will see unbundled rates rise to $59.95. News of Comcast's rate increases came shortly after a report that AT&T also is raising the price of broadband for some customers.

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The reports also come days before the FCC is slated to present Congress with a national broadband plan aimed at improving high-speed Web service in the country. Among other factors, the FCC has already identified the cost of broadband as one impediment to wider adoption.

Earlier this year, the FCC released a study showing that 35% of Americans lack home broadband lines. A big chunk of that group -- 36% -- said that broadband cost too much. (That group includes people who find monthly subscription fees and installation prices too high, as well as those who say a computer itself is too costly.)

Clyburn's comments were cheered by broadband advocacy group Free Press, which earlier this week called on the FCC to "do something bold and decisive to promote meaningful competition."

"For too long, the FCC has avoided confronting the competition problem, leaving American consumers and business at the mercy of the phone and cable companies," Free Press policy director Ben Scott said in a statement. "Congress wants a plan for universal, affordable and robust broadband, and a meaningful competition policy is the key to achieving those goals."

Scott also stated that goals for increased broadband adoption "cannot be met with hope that wireless broadband might someday discipline prices."

That remark appeared to be directed at an FCC announcement earlier this week indicating that the national broadband plan would include plans to consider using spectrum for free or low-cast wirelss broadband service.

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