Rumors have been floating around for at least six months that the FCC might change the definition of “broadband” actually to mean the real high-speed connections we need access to in the real world — and now it looks like they finally are.
The FCC has to provide a report on the state of broadband deployment in the U.S. to Congress every year. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler circulated the draft of the most recent version to the rest of the Commission this week, and it finally ups the stakes, as Ars Technica reports, defining broadband as a connection that pulls a download speed of 25 Mbps or greater, and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps.
Wheeler said in a speech back in September that the current benchmark of 4 Mbps is insufficient for modern use, so it’s not a surprise that he’s moving to increase the minimum threshold. However, it was unclear whether Wheeler would set the benchmark at 10 Mbps or shoot for the higher 25 Mbps standard. It appears the FCC is going with the latter.
In their draft report, the FCC also finds that broadband deployment across the U.S. is incredibly uneven, and that rural customers are the ones who suffer most, as the map above shows.
Roughly 55 million Americans lack access to 25 Mbps service, the FCC says. 22 million of those are rural customers, representing over half (53%) of the population of rural America. It’s not that folks on the farm don’t want to watch House of Cards just as much as their urban brethren do, though; it’s that the services are simply not provided where they live. The figures are even worse on Tribal lands, where 63% of residents don’t have access to 25 Mbps broadband.
Even for those of us who do already have access to 25 Mbps, though, there are still challenges. A government report released last month echoes the FCC’s findings, saying that roughly 86% of Americans have access to 25 Mbps speeds from at least one provider — but it also shows the bad news: only 37% of us have a choice between even two providers in a local duopoly, and only a bare 9% of the country lives in a place with at least three providers actually competing to provide service at that speed.
ISPs are not exactly all in favor of this move. AT&T and Verizon — both companies that run slower, older, DSL networks — both objected to Wheeler’s remarks earlier this fall, basically calling the FCC’s average usage estimates bunk. 4 Mbps is perfectly fine for almost everyone, the companies argued, despite the fact that even streaming your basic HD program on Netflix needs a 5 Mbps connection, to say nothing of a multi-user household with multiple devices.
The full draft report has not been made public, but the final version will be available once to the FCC has voted on it.