Ajit Pai Opposes Effort To Update The Definition Of Broadband
from the 640K-ought-to-be-enough-for-anybody dept
The Telecom Act of 1996 mandates that the FCC routinely assess whether broadband is “being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” and do something about it if that’s not the case. As part of that mission, the FCC also periodically takes a look at the way it defines broadband to ensure the current definition meets modern consumer expectations and technical advancements. That’s why, much to the telecom industry’s chagrin, the FCC in 2015 changed the definition of broadband from a fairly-pathetic 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to the current standard of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
Telecom monopolies (and the lawmakers paid to love them) whined incessantly about the changes at the time. Why? Because the higher definition only highlights how there’s virtually no competition at faster speeds in the U.S. It also highlights how because countless U.S. telcos have shifted their focus to more immediately-profitable ventures (like flinging video ads at Millennials), they’ve neglected network upgrades on a comical scale. As a result, most modern telcos fail to even technically sell “broadband” across vast swaths of America, giving cable giants like Comcast a bigger broadband monopoly than ever before.
As such, you can kind of understand why, if you’re a lumbering broadband monopoly, why you’d prefer the definition of broadband remain at ankle height.
With the FCC preparing its latest assessment of the broadband broadband industry as required by law, the question over whether the broadband standard should again be lifted has again raised its ugly head. Especially given that in the age of symmetrical gigabit (1 Gbps) connections and cloud storage, that 3 Mbps upstream standard is looking a little lame. But in a Notice of Inquiry (pdf) published last week, Pai?s FCC proposed keeping the current 25/3 definition intact, something that apparently annoyed his fellow Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
In a statement (pdf), Rosenworcel suggests that symmetrical 100 Mbps would be a far more ambitious goal to aim for:
“…This inquiry fundamentally errs by proposing to keep our national broadband standard at 25 Megabits per second. I believe this goal is insufficiently audacious. It is time to be bold and move the national broadband standard from 25 Megabits to 100 Megabits per second. When you factor in price, at this speed the United States is not even close to leading the world. That is not where we should be and if in the future we want to change this we need both a more powerful goal and a plan to reach it. Our failure to commit to that course here is disappointing.
Disappointing but not surprising. Again, an even higher bar would only more clearly illustrate that a huge swath of the broadband industry has effectively given up on upgrading their broadband networks at any real scale, a reason why countless consumers can only get sub 3 Mbps DSL from their incumbent telco.
Pai’s unwillingness to aim higher is also unsurprising given he was recently forced to retreat from a plan that would have technically lowered the broadband definition bar back down to 10 Mbps. Pai had attempted a policy change that would have declared any 10 Mbps wireless connection good enough to be considered broadband, a move that would have ignored the fact that wireless connections are subject to all manner of limits (caps, overage fees, weird restrictions on HD video, rural congestion) making them a less than suitable full replacement for fixed line broadband.
With Pai’s net-neutrality-killin’ majority controlling any meaningful vote on this subject, it’s likely that if the definition of broadband changes at all, it will likely be lowered. After all, you certainly wouldn’t want any data highlighting how broken the U.S. broadband market currently is, lest somebody get the crazy idea to actually do something about it.