The Federal Communications Commission should define broadband as internet speeds of at least 100 Mbps in both directions, up from the current benchmark of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, trade groups for rural broadband carriers and fiber carriers argue in a new regulatory filing.
The current standard “does not reflect what American consumers need today, let alone tomorrow,” NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and the Fiber Broadband Association write in comments filed Friday.
“As we look back, the Commission has significantly and repeatedly underestimated consumers’ need for robust broadband service, opting for 'here and now' short-term metrics that could not conflict more squarely with long-term objectives and the long-term nature of infrastructure deployment,” the organizations add. “Based on the record in this proceeding, the 25/3 Mbps speed metric does not reflect today’s reality.”
The groups' comments come in response to the FCC's call in August for input on its next report about the state of broadband in the United States.
The last time the FCC revised its definition of broadband was in 2015, when the agency adopted the 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream standard.
In August, the agency proposed retaining that definition. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented, arguing that the agency should define broadband as speeds of at least 100 Mbps.
“With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second,” she stated.
The rural broadband association and fiber broadband association argue in their new filing that many people currently need connections greater than the 25/3 benchmark.
“On any given day, for example, multiple family members in a single household might connect to their home networks on separate devices at the same time to engage in remote learning on Google Classrooms, telework on Citrix, access telehealth services on Teladoc, apply for jobs through LinkedIn, chat with family on Zoom, share their views on Twitter, stream a movie on Netflix, and play "Fortnite" with friends across the country and around the world. A 25/3 Mbps connection is not sufficient to support these activities,” the groups write.
They add that people's need for bandwidth will only increase in the future, as technologies like 8K video and virtual reality take hold.
The trade group Incompas -- which represents online video providers like Amazon, Google and Netflix, as well as smaller broadband access providers like Wide Open West and Windstream -- argued that the FCC should raise the benchmark to of 1 Gbps. That group argued to the FCC that the growth in streaming services since 2015, combined with increased broadband use spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, warrant a new benchmark.
The NTCA -- The Internet & Television Association, which lobbies for broadband providers, has asked the FCC to maintain the current definition.
“Even as the COVID crisis has caused an exponential increase in the use of video conferencing applications for work, school, and telehealth, it remains the case that a 25/3 connection generally is sufficient to enable such applications,” the group writes.
The story omits some key elements of the debate.
1) Provision of almost any service to rural is much more expensive than urban, meaning the investment is higher and the ROI is lower. Therefore,
2) The government mandates a subsidy from urban/suburban network carriers to rural carriers (and has done so sine POTS). Thus, the rural carriers are arguing here for a lot more subsidy. That may be fine - I am not judging - but it's worth pointing out. It also explains why the NTCA-ITA opposes an increase: they'd be paying for it.
3) It would be very interesting to add some discussion of how LEO (satellite) broadband carriers might play here. What does Starlink or OneWeb think? How might the economics be playing?