FCC Proposes Retaining 25 Mbps Broadband Definition

Two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband as connection speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream -- a significant increase from the prior definition of 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

Since then, various groups have urged the FCC to revisit the meaning of broadband. A coalition of Republican lawmakers argued that the FCC had no reason to make the change. On the other side, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute said in a regulatory filing that broadband should be defined even faster; that group proposed a benchmark of at least 50 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbs upstream.

This week, the Republican-led FCC proposed maintaining the current definition of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, but also sought comment about whether to incorporate other factors -- including service consistency -- into the definition.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, one of two Democrats on the FCC, said in a concurring statement that the proposed standard isn't fast enough. "We sell consumers short by proposing a speed benchmark that is way too low," she stated. "The 25/3 Mbps standard we propose would not even allow for a single stream of 1080p video conferencing, much less 4K video conferencing. This does not even consider that multiple devices are likely utilizing a single fixed connection, or the multiple uses of a mobile device."

The agency's plans came to light in a notice soliciting public opinion for an upcoming report about the state of broadband deployment. The FCC is asking a host of questions, including whether to consider consumers' behavior when setting benchmarks.

"If consumers who have the choice of service offering speeds of 15 or 25 Mbps largely choose 15 Mbps service, should that influence our determination of what constitutes advanced telecommunications capability?" the FCC asks.

The agency notes that 59% of home wireline connections meet or exceed the current benchmark.

The notice of inquiry also asks for comment on whether to consider restrictions on service, including data caps, when evaluating broadband. Online video provider Netflix asked the FCC in March to rule that data caps on wireline networks may "unreasonably limit" online television viewing.

The FCC also says it may, for the first time, set benchmarks for mobile broadband service. The report seeks comments on a mobile broadband definition of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.

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