Report: FCC Broadband Definition Too Slow

John Lister's picture

A government agency says the current US definition of broadband may be too slow. It says the threshold of 25 Mbps likely isn't enough for today's needs, particularly for small businesses.

The figure in question is the Federal Communication Commission's "benchmark" for broadband speeds. It's important because it's the figure officials use to assess what proportion of the US population has access to broadband and whether the country is meeting targets. The most recent estimate is that 96 percent of the population has broadband access under the current definition.

The benchmark also plays a key role when officials decide which regions should get public funding to subsidize building broadband networks where private providers have decided it isn't worth the investment, for example in rural areas.

Benchmark Unchanged Since 2015

Until 2015 the FCC's benchmark was 4 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. The FCC then increased that to 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. Ajit Pai, who led the FCC from 2017 to 2021, rejected calls to increase the benchmark during his time in office. (Source:

The benchmark is the subject of a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan agency that assesses government spending. It reviewed the benchmark taking particular account of the needs of small business.

The report involved interviewing business owners and looking through previous studies by business groups. It cited one study that said 25 Mbps was becoming too small and that upload speeds needed to be closer to download speeds, while another study suggested small businesses needed at least 50 Mbps.

Small Business Needs Must Be Heard

Most of the comments and studies cited pointed to changes in the way small businesses use the Internet. Instead of simply having an email account and a bare bones website, businesses now often need to use online voice and video call services or have a fast connection for point of sale terminals.

Another change is that businesses are more likely to have many or most staff needing an Internet connection rather than only a couple of employees being online.

The Government Accountability Office didn't go as far as to say the FCC needs to increase the benchmark. However, it recommends the FCC start surveying small businesses and explicitly take into account their needs the next time it reviews the benchmark. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

What speed would you consider a reasonable definition of "broadband"? Should the benchmark be different for consumers and businesses? Is subsidizing faster broadband availability a smart way for government to boost small business?

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tcole_2974's picture

There are very few businesses that can function efficiently on 25 Mbps. We have 75 Mbps at our shop and when we are doing training, and Zoom meetings, and remote suppport and normal day-to-day activities, there is often buffering and slow-downs, especially in the late afternoon. We would like to increase to at least 100 Mbps but it isn't available at our location.