This is not a duopoly

According to our Vint Cerf, broadband access to the Internet is “at best a duopoly.” Reality, however, disagrees with Google’s chief evangelist. See the latest FCC report on broadband competition summarized by Scott Cleland::

The other very powerful piece of evidence was in Table 15 “Percentage of Zip Codes with High Speed Lines in Service.”

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 3 or more competitive broadband providers increased 21%, from 67% of all zip codes to 81% of all zip codes.

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 5 or more competitive broadband providers increased 35%, from 39% of all zip codes to 53% of all zip codes.

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 10 or more competitive broadband providers increased 62%, from 13% of all zip codes to 21% of all zip codes.

* Moreover, the number of zip codes where there were no broadband providers at all fell from 4.6% of all zip codes at the end of 2004 to 1% of all zip codes at the end of 2005.

Market forces are producing more supply: in the number of competitors serving a market and in the numbers of markets served.

This is Google’s worst nightmare, as it totally erodes any basis for the subsidy they seek in the form of net neutrality regulations.

14 thoughts on “This is not a duopoly”

  1. Does this data suffer from the same problem that the last FCC report did because broadband providers in a given zip code do not necessarily compete? Recall the GAO report ( that corrected for this concluded that the median number of broadband competitors offering services to a particular customer was 2.

    Has someone looked at this new FCC data using the same filter used by the GAO so we can get a more accurate picture of broadband competition?

  2. Even the old GAO report based on the 2004 data puts a lie to Cerf’s claim that broadband is “at best a duopoly.” With a median of 2, he substituted “at best” for “typically”.

    Conclusion: Cerf lies, Internet dies.

  3. The GAO did not correct the FCC numbers. They “adjusted” them.

    In particular, we removed satellite providers, removed any companies we determined only provide service to business customers, removed a cable provider if we found that more than 1 of the largest 10 cable providers served the zip code, removed a cable provider if the respondent said that cable does not pass their residence, and removed telephone-based providers if the residence was further than 2.5 miles from the central office that served the respondent’s home.

    I can’t really say if this is any more accurate.

  4. As the growth in broadband alternatives is mainly from cellular, these “adjustments” can’t make it all go away. That’s a total bummer for Google.

  5. I have trouble with this. I don’t understand why Google wants to put a ban on the sale of QoS? Is this a half baked idea that they will be able to not charge for Google talk as a VoIP service?

    I can understand the thought behind not wanting to have to pay Telcos even more, but this is still a problem.

    As for the “Adjustments,” Please take in account that Satellite would not be able to take advantage of QoS and would have no purpose in being compared. I know about this, there would be no point to a chat application on Satellite. Been there tried that, won’t go back.

  6. A few quick points:

    (1) Using the FCC’s numbers (without adjustments) as a measurement of the number of competitors in a given market was a problem. Even though the FCC recognized that the study was not designed to measure competition, some people were using it for that purpose. The GAO;s report with “adjustments” was important to try to correct that misperception, even if the adjustments did not necessarily paint a perfect picture.

    (2) The GAO’s explanation of why it adjusted the numbers makes some sense. Even with the adjustments, however, the GAO’s conclusions could overestimate competition or underestimate it. The adjustments simply eliminate a couple sources that could cause overestimation; there might still be others. Without a study designed to measure competition, we probably cannot know with too much certainty, but the GAO’s report is probably better than the FCC’s raw figures as a measure of competition.

    (3) A “median” does not indicate “typicality.” A median is not necessary equal to any value in the data set. The term for for typicality is “mode.” In this case, I suspect (based on Vint’s Cerf’s figures) that the mean, median and mode all equal 2, but if someone has evidence to the contrary, I would appreciate a link or reference.

    Finally, can someone elaborate on how broadband deployment and competition is expanding via cellular? An article or link would be helpful. Thanks.

  7. Chad: Instapundit has been saying how much he loves his EVDO service for ages now, for one.

    That whole “3G” thing, they call it.

    I’m too lazy to look up market penetration numbers, but it seems undeniable that it’s competition in the broadband world (especially for those very people excluded for from the GAO report for being, say, >2.5mi from their CO, etc.).

  8. The median is the value in the middle of the distribution, ChadB, where half the data points are above and half are below. For common, ordinary, garden-variety discussion that’s close enough to “typical” to please me.

    The GAO summarily dismisses satellite-based broadband services. That’s irrational because they’re a perfectly satisfactory means of downloading files, the main thing that people do with the Internet.

    And as the man says, EVDO/3GPP cellular is a fast-growing and perfectly acceptable alternative to DSL.

  9. Chad,

    Almost everyone in the U.S. has access to at least 4 cellular providers. Many have more options. (I have 5 choices in my area, even after the recent mergers.) By definition, only one of these cellular providers can be affiliated with the ILEC. Furthermore, no major cable company owns a cellular company.

    The slow deployment of broadband cellular is a spectrum problem. Cingular, Verizon, Sprint, and other have all been deploying wireless broadband, but only where they own sufficient spectrum. (Even then, they are concerned about overloading network.) Furthemore, T-Mobile and other smaller players don’t have enough spectrum in most markets.

    The FCC is holding an large auction this fall to sell off more spectrum to enable broadband. T-Mobile and Verizon have both said they will be active bidders, so that they can expand their broadband service.

  10. Richard, I think your error is forgivable, as is Vint Cerf’s reliance on the GAO’s numbers understandable. I’m not sure his use of “at best” amounts to a lie when he also recognized that some 20% or 30% (I can’t remember which) of markets have more than 2 broadband providers.

    Dismissal of satellite as a source of broadband competition is not irrational when our concern involves VoIP and other time-sensitive applications, which satellite does not do well on yet. I’m not saying that it should be ignored, but satellite is not yet an effective triple play competitor. BTW you more than most have tried to focus the debate on time-sensitive applications. It seems strange that you would include satellite as a broadband competitor when it cannot yet deliver time-sensitive apps.

    I appreciate that EDVO/3GPP cellular is fast-growing. Is there any literature or analysis on it so I can get details? I’m looking for scope of service, strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis DSL and cable modem, market penetration, investment developments, etc. The Wikipedia link was only so helpful.

  11. Satellite broadband is a perfectly acceptable way of moving large files, such as video files, and “at best” is as far from the median as you can get without falling off the scale.

    If you want to learn about EVDO, there are hundreds of web sites that cover it.

  12. Last time I checked, EVDO’s terms-of-service explicitly forbade all sorts of fun IP-based services, including P2P, VoIP, running a listening socket, etc. etc. EVDO is in no way similar to FTTH.

    As for FTTH, everyone knows there is a duopoly.

    How many RBOCs do you have serving your 9-digit ZIP? How many cable companies? My guess is 98% answer 2 or less, just as Sensebrenner indicated.

    And that’s precisely why the carriers spent nine figures lobbying rather than innovating.

  13. If you define any market narrowly enough, you can convince yourself it’s a monopoly. How many companies build Ford cars? Oh, it’s a monopoly!

    Broadband is not a duopoly, director, as most Americans have 5 choices already, and more coming with Muni WiFi, WiMax, BPL, and more EVDO. Get used to it.

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