From now on, Internet connection speeds must offer a download rate of at least 25 Mbps and an upload rate of at least 3 Mbps to qualify as "broadband," according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The previous broadband standard was 4 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads
In its first broadband progress report under Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC found that under its new definition, 17 percent of the U.S. population -- some 55 million people -- still lack access to broadband connectivity. The percentage is even higher in rural areas, where only 47 percent of residents have access to such broadband speeds, and on Native American tribal lands, where nearly two-thirds lack such access.
"While significant progress in broadband deployment has been made, due in part to the commission's action to support broadband through its Universal Service programs, these advances are not occurring broadly enough or quickly enough, the report finds," according to the FCC. "The report concludes that more work needs to be done by the private and public sectors to expand robust broadband to all Americans in a timely way."
'Faster than the Model T'
We reached out to former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston to get his opinion on the FCC's latest broadband decision. In his 2012 book, "The Fine Print," Johnston devoted a chapter -- "In Twenty-Ninth Place and Fading Fast" -- to the slow development of high-speed Internet access in the U.S., concluding that "our Internet-telephone-cable cartel has left us with the worst possible outcome."
"The FCC's new standard for 'high speed' 21st Century Internet is promoting Ford's Model A as faster than the Model T," Johnston told us.
The global average connection speed had dropped slightly to 4.5 Mbps, with South Korea remaining the nation with the fastest average network speeds (25.3 Mbps), according to Akamai Technologies' third-quarter 2014 update to its "State of the Internet" report. By contrast, the average speed in the U.S. was 11.5 Mbps.
"I think that 25 Mbps is a reasonable speed target/threshold, but I'd also be interested in understanding why they selected that specific number, as opposed to 20 Mbps, or even 50 Mbps," David Belson, Akamai's Senior Director of Industry and Data Intelligence, told us.
'Tired of Dreaming Small'
Several FCC members echoed Johnston's opinion that U.S. Internet speeds could and should be even faster in statements accompanying their votes on the broadband progress report.
"On any given evening, it would not be surprising to see one child doing online homework, another streaming a movie, one parent uploading data files for work, and another parent paying bills or downloading photos while also streaming music or video," Wheeler noted. "That's not just tough to do with a 4 Mbps connection, it's pretty much impossible without taking turns being online, which is a non-starter. In 2015, taking turns to share the Internet bandwidth is as absurd as taking turns to use the electricity."
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed with those sentiments. "I, for one, am tired of dreaming small," she said. "I think our new threshold should be 100 megabits. I think anything short of that shortchanges our children, our future, and our digital economy." Rosenworcel, Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn are among the FCC's Democratic members.
Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly both issued dissenting statements on the latest broadband progress report.
Pai called the commission's new standard "arbitrary," while O'Rielly criticized the 25 Mbps figure as "an artificially high standard" being applied "in a way that is impossible to achieve in order to reach all Americans."
Posted: 2015-01-31 @ 4:52pm PT
Frankly, all of this focus on speed is misplaced. The real problem are capacity caps (usage based billing) and the real limiting factor is cost. We're a family of three and perfectly happy with 15MBps, which does not qualify as broadband under the new standard. We'd rather see a cut in prices than an increase in speed.