U.S. Consumers Have Limited Options For High-Speed Web, Commerce Dept. Says

Lest there was any doubt, competition among broadband providers remains lacking -- at least at speeds of more than 10 Mbps.

That's according to the Commerce Department, which this week released a new report regarding the state of broadband availability.

Researchers found that people who want service of at least 10 Mbps -- which Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says should be the new definition of broadband -- typically have a choice of just two wireline providers. In other words, broadband at that speed typically is a duopoly service.

People also typically have a choice of at least three wireless broadband providers at 10 Mbps, according to the report. It's not clear that wireline and wireless service are comparable, however, given that many wireless providers impose fairly stingy data caps (often as low as 3 gigabyes, before overages kick in).

When it comes to service faster than 10 Mbps, the competitive picture is even bleaker. Fewer than four in 10 (37%) of U.S. residents have a choice of two or more broadband providers offering 25 Mbps connections, the report states.

That speed is fast enough to download a 6-gigabyte movie in 16 minutes, according to the report.

For the vast majority of residents (97%), wireline providers are the only game in town at speeds of 25 Mbps.

Ultra-fast 1 Gbsp service is only available through Google Fiber or in a small number of cities that have built their own fiber-optic networks.

One reason that so few towns have done is that 20 states have laws -- passed at the urging of cable companies and telecoms -- that limit municipalities' ability to create their own high-speed networks. The FCC currently is considering whether to preempt those laws. Chairman Tom Wheeler has suggested that he wants to do so, but some opponents to the plan argue that states have the right to pass whatever restrictions they wish.

While the report doesn't make any policy recommendations, it's hard to read it and not come away thinking that the state of broadband in the U.S. would only improve if more providers existed. Removing restrictions on municipal broadband obviously won't fix everything, but it seems like a good start.

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