'Competify' Campaign Seeks FCC Action on Broadband

"Competify," a campaign by a coalition of competitive telecommunications, information processing and public advocacy groups and companies seeking to sway the FCC and other policy makers on key broadband issues, debuted today.  The initial group includes the Ad Hoc Telecommunications Users Committee, Broadband Coalition, BT (the company formerly known as British Telecom), Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), COMPTEL, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Engine, Level 3, Public Knowledge, Sprint and XO.

While cable TV and the huge telephone companies are not mentioned by name on the new website or in an ad in The New York Times unveiling the campaign, it is clear that these major system providers are the target of the new group's wrath. The announcement characterized the current market condition as "a chronic disease" affecting the entire information economy.  It urged the FCC to move forward aggressively "on its critical work to address the scourge of high broadband prices and anticompetitive behavior by advancing meaningful broadband competition."

"The broadband economy pays at least $10 billion dollars each year in overcharges to a few huge companies that control access to America’s critical broadband infrastructure," according to the coalition's announcement. "These profits of over 100 percent come at the expense of the rest of the economy: driving up prices, stifling innovation, and dragging down speeds and deployment of both wireless and wireline broadband."

Today's debut of the "Competify" campaign is timed for pending FCC considerations on the IP transition, which FCC chairman Tom Wheeler addressed last week and the competitive access or "special access" proceeding; the latter is a long-running FCC examination that includes last-mile issues and is expected to come before Commission soon.

Recent net neutrality and telecom merger deals (including cable mergers involving Time Warner Cable) also triggered the formation of the new group, according to an observer familiar with the organization.

Although its initial focus is on FCC actions, Competify is also expected to take its message to Capitol Hill and to other policy makers.  The group's membership roster may also be enlarged as its message appeals to others affected by broadband operations, said a source.    

Competify said that wants the FCC "to continue its work as a champion of a competitive broadband market, following its landmark pro-consumer decisions on Net Neutrality and community broadband."

On the TryCompetify website, the group offers data points to back up its stance.  It notes that "just two companies control 86% of the mobile broadband revenues, as well as the critical inputs on which would-be competitors depend."

It characterizes the wired broadband situation as "even worse, with a very limited number of providers controlling the majority of the pipelines that transmit ALL broadband traffic."

"Whenever you use a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, telephone, credit card reader, or ATM, that data must cross facilities controlled by one of a few dominant companies somewhere along the line. And you overpay because they face no effective competition," according to the website.

Competify's campaign emphasizes that "3 out of 4 American consumers have zero to one choice for broadband." The group contends that, "A growing body of data shows that consumers and businesses are clamoring for broadband choices. Competify members will work with the FCC and Chairman Wheeler to ensure that their voices are heard and that real reform happens."

Steven K. Berry, president/CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, said “Mobile carriers need competitive connectivity to provide the innovative services that consumers demand. Choices for high speed mobile broadband should not be dictated by captive rent paid to dominant providers.”

Another founding member, COMPTEL, through its CEO Chip Pickering, added, "Large incumbent gatekeepers have the power to dictate when, where, and how much consumers and businesses pay for broadband access on which they increasingly depend. Competition is a bipartisan, free market principle that should drive our country’s broadband policy for the 21st Century so we can deliver better, faster, affordable broadband to all Americans.”

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.