The Federal Communications Commission, which is gearing up to issue its annual report on broadband, is again proposing that broadband should be defined as connections of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
The agency first adopted that benchmark in 2015. At the time, the standard represented 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 its definition. In March of 2017, the lobbying group NCTA - Internet & Television Association criticized the 25 Mbps standard, arguing that it "is not the only valid or economically significant measure of broadband service."
But some watchdogs have pressed the agency to move the benchmark upward. For instance, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute argued recently that the benchmark should be at least 50 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, argues that the standard should be twice that figure. "It is time to be bold and move the national broadband standard from 25 Megabits to 100 Megabits per second, she said last week in a statement dissenting from the proposed definition. "When you factor in price, at this speed the United States is not even close to leading the world."
The FCC's proposal comes in a notice of inquiry seeking comments about the state of broadband deployment. The agency also is once again soliciting opinions about whether mobile service can substitute for fixed connections. Last year, the agency concluded that mobile broadband wasn't equivalent to wireline due to "salient differences between the two technologies."
In July, the group Internet Innovation Alliance, which lists AT&T as a member, urged the FCC to re-evaluate the question. The group said a report it commissioned showed that consumers view wireless and wireline service "as essentially the same."
"We recognize that network speed is often one distinguishing characteristic between mobile and fixed networks but to the extent that mobile services are able to offer equivalent functionality as fixed services either now or in the future, we seek comment on whether or not and in what circumstances, if any, mobile and fixed services should be considered substitutes," the FCC writes. "We also seek comment on whether or not we should consider other non-fixed technologies as possible substitutes for fixed service."