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FCC proposes raising definition of broadband to 10Mbps

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler talked about wanting the definition of broadband to be at least 10Mbps down for rural areas in the US and 25Mbps down for developed markets
September 18, 2014

Last week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler spoke to Multichannel News and talked about wanting the definition of broadband to be at least 10Mbps down for rural areas in the US and 25Mbps down for developed markets. This means that any Internet Service Provider (ISP) who accepts Universal Service funds from the FCC (government subsidies) should offer at the minimum 10Mbps down.

The FCC’s current definition of “broadband” Internet is 4Mbps down. Originally, the FCC defined broadband as anything faster than 200kbps, then upgraded that definition to 768kbps down. It was only in 2010 that the FCC officially defined broadband to mean 4Mbps down.

Although AT&T and Verizon urged Wheeler to abandon this proposal, Wheeler has now told the US House Committee on Small Business that he will not abandon his goal of raising the definition of broadband.

“We have proposed increasing the throughput in order to get Universal Service funds from 4Mbps to 10Mbps for precisely the reason that you mentioned, that you can’t have a digital divide. When 60 percent of the Internet’s traffic at prime time is video, and it takes 4 or 5Mbps to deliver video, a 4Mbps connection isn’t exactly what’s necessary in the 21st century. And when you have half a dozen different devices, wireless and other connected devices in a home that are all going against that bandwidth, it’s not enough. What we are saying is we can’t make the mistake of spending the people’s money, which is what Universal Service is, to continue to subsidize something that’s subpar.” – Tom Wheeler (per Ars Technica)

The proposed upgrade in download speeds would only apply to future grants.


The ISP’s will fight the proposal in anyway that they can, since raising the definition will force ISP’s to show their lack of deployment and competition across the country.

Just take a look at how AT&T and Verizon view this subject.

“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 made public Friday after the FCC’s comment deadline (see FCC proceeding 14-126). “Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions,” AT&T wrote later in its filing. Verizon made similar arguments. – DSLReports

In the past, the FCC has struggled to raise the definition bar.

  • When the FCC was trying to raise the broadband definition from 768kbps or to 4Mbps, ISP’s complained loudly.
  • When the FCC was giving out millions for one of the Connect America Fund phases, ISP’s like Windstream refused to take all of the money ($775 per install) because the FCC wanted to bump up the definition of an area to “unserved” if that area couldn’t receive 6Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up, instead of 3Mbps down and 768kbps up.
  • The FCC was chastised by the American Cable Association for wanting to raise the definition of broadband speeds to 6Mbps down (for the definition of “unserved”) by claiming that such speeds meant additional “government-supported overbuilding”….whatever that means.

Basically, ISP’s and phone companies have their markets cornered and don’t want taxpayer cash changing that equation.

But let’s be happy that the cable industry has finally come around to wanting the FCC broadband definition to mean actual speeds and not advertised speeds. Back in 2009, the cable industry’s primary lobbying group (National Cable & Telecommunications Association) pushed for the FCC definition to remain at 768kbps and 200 kbps. The NCTA also wanted the FCC definition to be defined by the speed advertised and not the speed actually delivered. Wait, what?

…the Commission should continue to look at maximum advertised speed rather than some measure of “actual” speed. In the Notice, the Commission observes that advertised speeds “generally differ from actual rates, are not uniformly measured, and have different constraints over different technologies.” – National Cable & Telecommunications Association