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.

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Comments on “Ajit Pai Opposes Effort To Update The Definition Of Broadband”

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50 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

The up speed is laughable. It’s maddening how ISPs tout downstream speeds as if they were the only thing you should care about. I mean, my friend complained the other day that when she used her 100 mbit connection heavily (ie: multiple Netflix hd streaming, downloading and whatever) she couldn’t send anything through. Her up speed: 5 mbit. No, seriously, a goddamn 100 mbit connection with 5 mbit upstream. I explained her how even when downloading you upload data to maintain the connectivity and how 5 mbit was a joke for her downstream. She realized why cloud stuff and uploading would take so long. In the end she switched providers because that ISP didn’t offer bigger upload speeds (WTF?!) and she’s in the same plan I am with 50 down/35 up.

25/3 is bullshit. Shouldn’t the US be leading the world? 100 mbit symmetrical is the bare minimum then.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Well, they could have chosen a better protocol to reinvent. SIP was designed to be compatible with the POTS network. Which is why it’s so bad.* In reality you don’t need to reinvent anything. The issue is bandwidth, something that the ISPs in the US refuse to invest in despite record low subsidies for years. Why? Because most ISPs have little to no real competition in the US, so they have no reason to increase their bandwidth capacity. Instead they just pocket the money their subscribers pay and then lobby AKA buy out the FCC when people complain about it. Pretty much like everything else wrong with the US if you want change, start with the corruption and work your way down from there.

*Seriously, 5 connections per call. No reason they couldn’t just use one, but that would have required more expensive hardware at the POTS to VoIP PoP to convert the five streams on the POTS network to one. Firewalls have paid the price ever since.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The process of getting permission to build out a network has been gnarly. The states have made a lot of smoothing and will continue to do so to make it easier.
In theory the civic assosiation-owned fiber network is getting easier as long as the peering isn’t attrosious. That, though, is the big bogieman in ISP-land and something that isn’t easily dealt with without separating ISP-services and infrastructure…

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

At the very least I’d be smart enough not to choke the customer downstream with a dial-up upstream.

And you bet I will build my own isp if I get the opportunity (ie: money). And you can bet it’l be a wonderfully dumb pipe that delivers speeds as advertised. Well, my current isp already does it but it’s pretty regional, I want to reach as many as possible.

David says:

What's the obsession with the definition anyway?

Goals must be defined and assessed given concrete rates and deadlines. It would be unfair if goals were suddenly declared unmet because the definition changed upwards, and it would most certainly be bribery waiting to happen if you could declare goals met because of a definition getting changed downwards.

Concrete rates for concrete deadlines are the only thing making sense regarding contracts, incentives, and evaluations. It helps nobody to have a moving goalpost except those who’d rather meddle with the goalpost than actually investing themselves in the game.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: What's the obsession with the definition anyway?

“It would be unfair if goals were suddenly declared unmet because the definition changed upwards”

I’d love to see you explain that to whichever stockholders bought Pai off. It would be fun explaining to them why profit targets should never be increased.

“Concrete rates for concrete deadlines are the only thing making sense regarding contracts, incentives, and evaluations. “

I’m not sure about your planet, but on this one it’s extremely common for goals, deadlines and contracts to be changed during a regular review process. But, your feeble attempt to demand that your ISPs continue to rip off the public rather than provide real broadband options is noted.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: What's the obsession with the definition anyway?

Frankly, I don’t see that changing the definition of broadband should be a substitute for meeting obligations from 1996. If they did not manage in 22 years, it’s time to demand the subsidies back plus penalties and give the job (and then indeed adjusted to match current standards) to someone else.

David says:

Re: Re: What's the obsession with the definition anyway?

I’m not sure about your planet, but on this one it’s extremely common for goals, deadlines and contracts to be changed during a regular review process.

Well I’m not sure about our planet either because climate change goals are regularly reviewed, it is determined that nobody actually does shit to meet the previously declared goals, so something must be done. What is done is making the goals more ambitious rather than actually do anything towards meeting either the old or the new goals.

That’s the kind of smokescreen nobody needs.

Of course with regard to broadband deployment we are talking Pai here, so it’s not like he is going to hold anybody responsible for meeting anything they got subsidized for: no fixed goals, and no moving goals either.

Because he has not come to fulfill the prophets and the laws but to dissolve them.

Joel Coehoorn says:

Include caps and metering in the definition

I’d like to adjustment to trade a little bit of that speed for other important features.

I’m looking for a definition more like 15/1 down/up, which is frankly plenty for most casual use homes, but also has policy restrictions such that only **unmetered** connections qualify. This should be measured in such a way to ensure any “unlimited” offering which reduces speeds after so much use per month still counts as metering.

We also need to include latency requirements as part of the definition. In theory, there are satellite or other high-altitude options coming available to much of the country that can deliver the raw speed to qualify for broadband, but these have latency issues that make them a poor replacement for much slower lines. We need to account for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Include caps and metering in the definition

15 Mbps is OK for a single person, but 1 Mbps upload makes a lot of things painful. You can do low-quality videoconferencing, but video/photo uploads take annoyingly long. Maybe 15/15 can be a minimum for one person, but it’s not ambitious. And normally, our country’s policies try to favor families, which should really be 100/50 or higher (kids use a lot of data—they have no concept of how slow things used to be, or that they could download instead of streaming).

You’re right about latency and metering. Nobody wants to be policing their family’s data usage.

Iggy says:

100mbps sounds like a political move.

25mbps is enough for multiple video streaming in a household which is what the internet is mostly used for nowadays.

Mike mentions other issues such as usage caps, video restrictions, latency, lack of consistent connections and it might make more sense for the FCC to use those metrics instead of coming up with a new arbitrary number.

It would even improve things a lot if measurements were done by a third party instead of taking the telecoms at their word (When this was done in the UK, telecoms had to drop their advertised speeds by 40% on average). Done sensibly, this would be a lot cheaper than the useless $300,000,000 broadband availability map the FCC used.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The increasing use of the Internet is various forms of video streaming and conferencing, and the paltry upstream in particular means many people cannot join in the activities that that enables.

Give people more bandwidth, and without any data caps, and they will find all sorts of uses for that capacity. Multiple high resolution video streams in both directions opens up all sorts of possibilities to work together on various projects.

These days, limiting peoples ability to partake in in activities on the Internet is also limiting their ability to better there own lives by making them passive consumers in an era where active participation is becoming the norm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

the paltry upstream in particular means many people cannot join in the activities that that enables.

Raising the upstream standard to 100 Mbps is one way to fix that. Raising it from 3 Mbps to 25 Mbps is another. But I’ll quote William S. Clark here and say "boys, be ambitious!", because aiming to not fall too far behind other countries is not how we used to do things. 100 Mbps is at least a decade-old goal (Australia had that idea in 2007).

Why do they propose 100? Perhaps because it’s the current maximum for VDSL2, allowing the chipset manufacturer’s ambition to mask the telcos’ lack. Do people forget we’ve done country-wide wiring twice before? (Electricity and phone.)

Tippy Canoe (user link) says:

Minion's nerd rage called out on The Register!

You’re way more famous than I suspected! Have your own category:

Net neutrality freaks furious over lack of fury at FCC hearing

Unbelievable that more wasn’t made of this non-story

Still, your name was spelled right — with a "K" as in Karl Marx.

Anyone actually interested in "net neutrality" should read "Bombastic Bob" for bullet points demolishing minion’s shrieky little assertions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Minion's nerd rage called out on The Register!

You’re way more famous than I suspected!

Congratulations! You’ve finally expanded your bubble outside of Foxnews and Breitbart! Yes, Karl is a more well known tech writer.

Still, your name was spelled right — with a "K" as in Karl Marx.

I see you still have nothing of actual substance to say so you resort to lame insults. Typical.

Anyone actually interested in "net neutrality" should read "Bombastic Bob" for bullet points demolishing minion’s shrieky little assertions.

And how exactly would fake wrestling help refute a position based on logic and verifiable facts? The fact that you turn to a fake wrestler as your go-to solution, speaks volumes about your intelligence level and your actual understanding of the issue at hand.

Just goes to show that you are stuck in the past, don’t understand anything about modern technology and the internet, and are nothing more than a schoolyard bully who can be safely ignored.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Anyone actually interested in "net neutrality" should read "Bombastic Bob" for bullet points demolishing minion’s shrieky little assertions.

Why should we care about your recommendations when you yourself cannot “demolish” the “shrieky little assertions” of this article? You like to think you are better than the writers and regular commenters here—why not prove us wrong with an actual argument backed up by facts and proper citations?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something..."

Because nobody in possession of facts and who doesn’t have a financial incentive to sway their position is going to be opposed to net neutrality?

Missed a few words. Having the facts means nothing if admitting to them would undermine someone’s position/job/expose their previous claims to be lies.

ECA (profile) says:

Anyone disagree??

Long ago, After High speed net hit this area..
I did the numbers to transfer 1 CD on 56k..
Over 1 year.

Iv setup a few homes with internet and Multiple devices connected..
3 Roku.
2 phones
4 tablets
Taught them about Network range on wireless..and guess what..
When the TV’s are going..most of the rest cant work.

THE NEW TV..at 4k..
IS A MONSTER. 1080p is about 5mbps..MINIMUM..
4k.. Is going to ber very close to 20mbps..
Goto YOUTUBE and Right click the video..
STATS for nerd..
1080p @60fps is 90mbps..BE AFRAID..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Anyone disagree??

I did the numbers to transfer 1 CD on 56k.. Over 1 year.

No, you’re way off. It’s 53333 bps download, 33600 bps upload on a good connection (maybe not at the same time); or 6.66 kBps, 4.2 kBps. Multiply by 86400, divide by 1024, and you’ll get 560 or 350 MB transferred per day (17 GB or 11 GB per month—still considered a large amount by cellphone carriers!).

It’s a day or two to transfer a 650 MB CD.

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