FCC May Increase Minimum Broadband Speed

John Lister's picture

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to increase the minimum threshold for 'broadband' speeds. It won't mean immediate changes for users, but could speed up efforts to boost investment and competition in broadband networks.

At the moment, the FCC officially defines broadband internet as having speeds of at least 25Mbps for downloads and 3Mbps for uploads. That definition has remained unchanged since 2015, with previous FCC chair Tom Wheeler rejecting calls to increase it.

Current chair Jessica Rosenworcel has formally proposed increasing the minimum speeds to 100Mbps for downloads and 20Mbps per second for uploads. She says the current thresholds have become out of date and that this became even more evident when the COVID pandemic led to more home working and other online activities. (Source: fcc.gov)

Broadband 'Availability' Depends on Definition

The threshold matters for two reasons. Firstly, it's what the FCC uses for a mandatory annual review of how much of the country has access to broadband speeds and which areas in particular are still falling short. That can inform programs such as subsidizing private providers to expand their networks in rural areas where it's more difficult to recoup the costs, for example.

Secondly, the threshold is the trigger for the FCC to take measures to promote competition. This could include putting blocking mergers between communications companies or encouraging municipal broadband where local governments offer Internet service in places which would otherwise have a monopoly private provider.

Political Divide On Display

While Rosenworcel's proposal is a big move, it may remain symbolic for some time. It would have to be approved by a majority vote of FCC commissioners. At the moment there are only four, split on party lines, and a vote on this topic would likely be a 2-2 deadlock. That means the speed increase is unlikely to get the thumbs up unless and until a vacancy for the usual fifth commissioner role is filled by the Senate confirming a nomination. (Source: arstechnica.com)

The proposal also suggests working towards a long-term goal of speeds of 1Gbps for downloads and 500Mbps for uploads, though there's no timetable for such a move.

What's Your Opinion?

Does your home internet access qualify as "broadband" under the proposed threshold? Is 100MBps a sensible definition? Should the government play any role in broadband network provisions or leave it entirely up to the free market?

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