In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband as connection speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream -- a big bump from the prior definition of 4 Mbps.
Web companies like Netflix as well as consumer advocates supported the FCC's move, but the cable industry balked, arguing that the new benchmark was arbitrary.
Now, the FCC is gearing up to again consider broadband benchmarks. The agency has proposed retaining the 25 Mbps definition for wireline service, and is also considering issuing a new benchmark of 10 Mbps for wireless service.
Both of those proposals have generated heated debate. Advocates, as well as Democratic lawmakers, for consumers say the FCC shouldn't endorse the idea that wireless broadband -- especially at speeds of just 10 Mbps -- can substitute for faster wireline connections. Advocates also argue that the FCC should be raising the bar for broadband service, not merely holding steady.
The Open Technology Institute said in a filing last year that broadband should be defined as speeds of at least 50 Mbps downstream.
The lobbying group Incompas, which counts Internet service providers as well as Silicon Valley companies as members, is urging the FCC to go even further by revising the standard to 1 Gigabit per second, in markets with at least three providers.
Not surprisingly, broadband providers oppose this idea. AT&T writes in its most recent filing, made available this week, that Incompas doesn't offer any basis for the 1 GB benchmark, except that some providers are offering that speed.
Comcast says in its most recent papers that the "only utility" of the proposal "is to highlight Incompas’s desire to have this proceeding veer off track toward the thicket of more heavy-handed and unnecessary regulation."
The cable company adds: "Calls to raise the speed benchmark, in some cases by a drastic amount, are, in reality, a siren song to give into 'the temptation to slant the report’s findings to support a broader agenda.'"
As a practical matter, current FCC seems unlikely to increase its speed standards. But even as cable providers, Silicon Valley and advocates debate policy considerations, broadband is bound to get faster. DSLReports reported today that cable providers could soon be able to offer connections at 10 Gbps.