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Lots of Internet competition -- just not at home

Here’s a guest post from John Dunbar of American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. We’re working together on a project for the next several months looking at disparities of broadband access in Washington D.C. The Obama administration has promised to expand high-speed Internet connections to all American homes. We look here, in the backyard of the nation’s capital, at the quality, speed and price of connections for residents.

You’ll be seeing more from us here on Post Tech and in the paper. Please reach out to us at and/or for your thoughts, questions and suggestions.

By John Dunbar
At first glance, the broadband market in the nation’s capital appears to be pretty competitive – at least as far as the Federal Communications Commission is concerned.

The agency reports there are 35 providers of high-speed Internet service in the District of Columbia. But a closer look reveals what DC residents already know – most folks are lucky if they have three to choose from.

The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University researched all the companies that provide broadband in the District and learned that of the 35, only eight serve residential customers.

That would still be an impressive number, but of those eight, three are satellite providers, whose relatively slow speeds and high cost make them attractive only in rural areas. Two others – DC Access LLC and Cavalier Telephone LLC – provide service only in limited areas.

That leaves three: Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and RCN Corp. (Not counting wireless providers AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.)

Coming up with a short list of providers in DC was a lot of work. Historically the FCC has refused to provide even the most basic information about broadband providers and their customers. The agency rarely names carriers and never provides specific information on price or connection speeds.

By Feb. 17, 2011, though, the government promises to cough up a little more information.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will post a “national broadband inventory map” on its Web site. The map will display broadband providers down to the Census block level. Unfortunately, no information on price or subscriber numbers will be provided and Internet connection speeds will be averaged over an entire metropolitan area.

The FCC’s “National Broadband Plan” concludes the government should do more. It should make sure consumers have “the pricing and performance information they need to choose the best broadband offers in the market.”

So far there’s been no action on the plan’s data recommendations.

UPDATE: FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield says the agency has taken action – through the launch of a broadband speed testing program, a “comprehensive initiative examining data collection and use policies” as well as a public notice seeking input on how to measure mobile broadband performance. There may also be new rules proposed later in the year, he added.

By John Dunbar  |  August 4, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC  
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Cecilia Kang continues her work for Google, attempting to mislead the public into believing that there is no competition and that therefore regulation is broadband is necessary. I do not live in the DC area, and yet know of competitive ISPs whom she does not mention.... How come she did not find them? Because her goal is not to do an accurate survey but rather to mislead.

Posted by: LBrettGlass | August 4, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

the use of "in Washington DC" for this post, I assume means within the city limits of DC, not the more commonly used DC-MSA, where most readers live.

Posted by: Hattrik | August 4, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree 100% with Cecilia. She's right! Not enough competition. Inflated (and rising) fees are rampant in the cable TV industry. Why? No real competition.
I canceled my $150+ Cable TV bill and started getting my tv online from a program at Livetvworldwide [dot] com. Have used it for a couple years. They don't charge monthly fees.

Posted by: monicapellar | August 4, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

What about Clearwire? And by the end of the year it is expected that Verizon Wireless will offer its 4G high-speed wireless service in DC.

Posted by: wilsonce | August 4, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

The most significant question raised is not answered: Why is the FCC so secretive regarding information about broadband providers?

Posted by: query0 | August 5, 2010 1:22 AM | Report abuse

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