Broadband now defined as 25 Mbps, FCC says

Just as it released its 2015 Broadband Progress Report, the FCC voted during its monthly meeting today to change the definition of broadband from a minimum of 4/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps, a move that will force incumbent telcos and cable operators to rethink how they market and deliver services to consumers and businesses.

According to the current broadband definition of 4/1Mbps, only 6.3 percent of U.S. households have no access to wired broadband. What's more, another 13.1 percent don't have access to broadband under the new 25 Mbps downstream definition.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was ardent in his support for the new broadband threshold.

"When 80 percent of Americans can access 25-3, that's a standard," said Wheeler during the commission meeting. "We have a problem that 20 percent can't. We have a responsibility to that 20 percent."

Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel joined Wheeler of the new 25/3 Mbps definition.

"We are never satisfied with the status quo. We want better. We continue to push the limit, and that is notable when it comes to technology," Clyburn said. "As consumers adopt and demand more from their platforms and devices, the need for broadband will increase, requiring robust networks to be in place in order to keep up. What is crystal clear to me is that the broadband speeds of yesteryear are woefully inadequate today and beyond."

Rosenworcel made an even bolder proposal by suggesting that the regulator actually change the download threshold to 100 Mbps.

"We invented the internet. We can do audacious things if we set big goals, and I think our new threshold, frankly, should be 100 Mbps. I think anything short of that shortchanges our children, our future, and our new digital economy," Rosenworcel said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the vote to change the definition of broadband from 4/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps drew fire from Republican commissioners who say the higher speeds aren't in line with consumer usage patterns.

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said new services like "4K TV requires 25 Mbps, but 4K TV is still relatively new and is not expected to be widely adopted for years to come. While the statute directs us to look at advanced capability, this stretches the concept to an untenable extreme. Some people, for example, believe probably incorrectly that we are on a path to interplanetary teleportation. Should we include the estimated bandwidth for that as well?"

Commissioner Ajit Pai called out what he notes is an inconsistency of Phase II of Connect America Fund, which requires service provider applicants to build networks that can serve a minimum of 10 Mbps.

"The agency decided to spend $10.8 billion over the next six years to deploy what it called 10 Mbps broadband so that millions of rural Americans could enjoy access to advanced telecommunications and information services," Pai said. "That's billions of dollars that may help Americans get the Internet access services they actually want, but apparently that $10.8 billion of funding won't be supporting broadband even though last month's item used that term no fewer than 320 times."

This new proposal is likely to face great opposition from both incumbent telcos and cable operators alike. Although fiber-based broadband services like FiOS can deliver speeds between 50 to 500 Mbps, the majority of current DSL services fall short of the new 25 Mbps threshold.

Under the new definition, the top traditional DSL services provided by service providers like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) will no longer be defined as broadband services. AT&T does deliver higher speeds of up to 75 Mbps for eligible U-verse customers, but its traditional DSL service tops out at 6 Mbps, while Verizon's DSL speeds only offer up to 15 Mbps. Verizon has publicly said that it has no plans to increase the speeds of its existing DSL services.

"Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine 'advanced' capabilities," AT&T wrote in a filing.

The cable industry has been just as outspoken against raising the broadband speed limits. In a separate filing, the National Cable Telecommunications Association told the FCC that a proposed redefinition of broadband to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream is excessive.

For more:
- see the FCC release
- The Verge has this article

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