The US Federal Communications Commission is looking to rewrite the definition of high-speed broadband service to bring it in line with programs established by Congress to fund the build-out of broadband infrastructure in unserved areas across the country.
On Friday, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel circulated among her colleagues a Notice of Inquiry, which asks for public comment on whether speeds that define minimum speeds for broadband should be raised to 100 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. This would be an increase over the current speed minimum adopted in 2015, which defines broadband as service delivering 25Mbps downloads and 3Mbps uploads.
The proposed 100Mbps/20Mbps standard is the metric that's being used in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which established $42 billion in funding to be distributed to states to build new broadband networks. Though the program sets the minimum speed of service to get a federal subsidy at 100 Mbps/20 Mbps, under the rules of the program to allocate the funds, network speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second for downloads will get preference in grants.
Rosenworcel said raising the national standard minimum broadband speed is important to ensure that the networks being built with federal subsidies will provide equitable access to service in terms of performance. The inquiry also asks if the FCC should set a separate national goal of 1Gbps for downloads and 500Mpbs per second for uploads for the future.
"The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC's 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online," Rosenworcel said. "The 25/3 metric isn't just behind the times, it's a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline. That's why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success."
Industry trade groups representing rural phone companies, rural electric co-ops and other broadband competitors said it was a good first start. But they'd like to see the 1Gbps minimum standard prevail.
"The 100 Mbps/20 Mbps proposal beats 25Mbps/3Mbps," Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, a trade association advocating for competition policy across all networks, said in an interview. "That's progress. But it's not making networks future-proof. So I'd say this is a bump along the road to 1Gbps broadband."
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA -- The Rural Broadband Association, said "as a nation, we need to aim higher and do better when it comes to setting broadband objectives." But she applauded the proposal to increase the national standard and to set a long-term objective as well.