FCC May Redefine “High Speed” Internet To Mean Actual High Speeds

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When we say “broadband internet,” we think that means “fast connections.” But as far as the actual regulations are concerned, that’s not necessarily true. To the FCC, “broadband” means anything with download speeds higher than 3 Mbps. Sure, that’s literally a hundred times faster than a 1993 dial-up connection — but as we move more and more into an all-online, all-streaming future, it’s just not enough. And so the FCC is considering changing the definition to match reality.

As the Washington Post reports, the FCC will likely soon put forth a proposal to redefine the minimum “high-speed” broadband connection to download speeds of 10 or even 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

The FCC’s 2013 report (PDF) on broadband adoption in the U.S. showed that as of December 2012, over 19 million home internet connections were slower than 3 Mbps and another 15 million were slower than 6 Mbps. That’s about 35 million “broadband” subscribers whose speeds wouldn’t meet the new definition.

And that, of course, is only counting places where a connection is available at all. The FCC has estimated that about 6% of the country is still not reached by home broadband connections, a number that would likely increase if the definition of service also went up.

The actual new minimum threshold will depend on the response the proposal gets from the public, according to the Post. It is clear, though, that 3 Mbps just doesn’t really cut it anymore in 2014, to say nothing of the years beyond. Watching HD streaming video from Netflix requires a stable 5 MBps connection, as does live-streaming video games.

Likewise the still-nascent 4K video standard, higher definition still than HD, requires a 15 Mbps downstream connection. The Post also points out that what may be a sufficiently high speed for one adult living alone and not binge-watching TV shows on Netflix may not be sufficient for a family where everyone is trying to move large amounts of data at the same time.

Stability is also important: just because a connection can reach a speed like 50 or 100 Mbps doesn’t mean it always will. The FCC is willing to take that into account, says the Post. “In addition to asking whether the old broadband definition is still adequate for today’s typical usage patterns,” they report, “it’ll ask the public whether the FCC should adopt a tiered set of definitions to account for varying speeds in different regions or during different times of day.”

Consumers in this country still pay far more for slower service than our counterparts around the world. If regulators redefine broadband as a higher speed than it currently is, that could hopefully exert pressure along the whole chain to increase speeds nationwide.

As we look at a future where even your kitchen appliances want to use your home’s always-on connection, making sure the minimum standard for broadband actually matches Americans’ minimum needs is a good thing.

The FCC may consider a stricter definition of broadband in the Netflix age [Washington Post]

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  1. Mokona512 says:

    This will only make things worst if they legitimize the idea of ISP’s not always offering the throughput users are paying for. The requirement should be that any throughput below what the user is paying for must be solely caused by endpoint bottlenecks. Any slowdown caused within the ISP’s network should be penalized under the consumer protection laws requiring them to only pay for services rendered.

    What this acknowledgement will do is legitimize a practice that would never be accepted in any other industry. Imagine if this were allowed with physical goods. You and 3 other people enter a pizza shop, and each order a large pizza, but at the time the shop owner only made a single large pizza, but instead of making 3 more pizzas, the owner instead decides to charge each customer the full price for a large pizza, but only give them 1/4th of a large pizza because he decided to only make 1 pizza.

    This would not be accepted with physical goods, and it should not be accepted for the internet.
    Making rules to do some good means nothing if they include huge loopholes for each good rule, while simultaneously legitimizing consumer unfriendly practices.

    For example, the internet fast lane is pared with a rule that ISP’s will not be allowed to throttle connections. But the huge loophole is that it makes no requirement for them to have the network capacity to offer customers the speed they are paying for. Because of this, an ISP can encourage the paying for the fast lane, by simply not upgrading their network, or not repairing failed equipment in order to allow the network capacity to scale back over time. This then causes a scarceity of throughput, and then for sites not wanting to deal with the congestion and major slowness, they can pay for a fast lane which will then give them priority and thus allowing them to take a larger chunk of the limited throughput. (and as we all know when you reach a point where a network is using prioritization, it means that there is not enough throughput to support everything so you use QOS to ensure that certain services or IP’s get all of the speed they need, by taking throughput away from everything else. e.g., if you have a 5mbit connection and you give netflix a high priority, then when someone streams content from netflix, the QOS will slow everything else to ensure that netflix has the throughput it needs, thus that already limited throughput becomes even more limited for non netflix traffic (on the other hand if there is no QOS and all packets are treated equally, then everything will share the throughput more evenly, netflix will not reach a good nough speed for HD, but everything will run at a slow pace. With QOS netflix will run fast, but everything else will be 10 times slower than they otherwise be). When the FCC legitimizes the idea of not treating packets equally, then ISP’s can essentially sell users a 50mbit connection but not have the capacity to support the customers and thus all non fast lane traffic will be considerably slower e.g., (fast line sites offering you your full 50mbit/s while sites not paying for the fast lane may only run at 1mbit/s or less)