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BAM! The FCC just defined broadband as 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up

Stacey Higginbotham

The Federal Communications Commission just took a bold step and redefined broadband as 25 Mbps for downstream speeds and 3 Mbps for upstream speeds, a move that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had hinted at earlier this month in a speech at International CES. The definition is a huge jump from the previous definition of broadband as 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, which was the old standard implemented in 2010.

For a measure of how bold this is, consider that the previous standard was only changed in 2008 to define broadband as 786 kbps down up from dial up speeds of 200 kbps down at a time when people were already using services such as Skype. So until this move, the definition of broadband usually lagged the actual broadband speeds that the majority of customers were actually offered in the country. But according to the FCC, about 20 percent of the country can’t access speeds that meet the new definition, which is why this is so notable.

The FCC’s definition is important because it determines what the FCC can say about the status of the country’s broadband in the agency’s Broadband Progress report. If the agency doesn’t decide that the country is deploying broadband in a “reasonable and timely manner,” it could take action of some sort. That action might include gathering more data on why places don’t have broadband or could include programs to increase broadband.

The rules are mostly likely to cause problems for DSL providers, notably AT&T, Verizon and smaller companies such as Windstream, CenturyLink and Fairpoint, which have many miles of old copper wires that will now need some kind of upgrade to provide 25 Mbps services to the home.

The FCC’s efforts to promote faster broadband are clearly troubling the industry. The National Communications and Telecommunications Association posted this statement:

While cable network Internet speeds already meet and exceed the FCC’s new broadband description, we are troubled that the Commission majority has arbitrarily chosen a definition of broadband in its Section 706 report that ignores how millions of consumers currently access the Internet. Instead of an accurate assessment of America’s broadband marketplace and the needs and uses of consumers, the FCC action is industrial policy that is not faithful to Congress’s direction in Section 706 to assess the market, but a clear effort to justify and expand the bounds of the FCC’s own authority.”

However, having a governmental agency push the industry to keep investing in expanding faster broadband, especially as telecommunications firms seem to abandon their investment in ares where DSL and copper lines are laid, seems prudent, lest we relegate entire swaths of the country to slow or non-existent broadband while the rest of us go on to gigabit futures.

Image copyright Alex Wong/Getty Images.

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