Senators Push FCC To Finally Update Our Pathetic Definition Of Broadband
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
To be clear, the US has always had a fairly pathetic definition of “broadband.” Originally defined as anything over 200 kbps in either direction, the definition was updated in 2010 to a pathetic 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. It was updated again in 2015 by the Wheeler FCC to a better, but still arguably pathetic 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream. As we noted then, the broadband industry whined incessantly about having any higher standards, as it would only further highlight the vast impact of monopolization.
Unfortunately for them, last week, a bipartisan coalition of Senators wrote the Biden administration, urging it to adopt a more aggressive broadband definition. How aggressive? 100 Mbps in both directions:
“For years, we have seen billions in taxpayer dollars subsidize network deployments that are outdated as soon as they are complete, lacking in capacity and failing to replace inadequate broadband infrastructure. We need a new approach. ”
Granted if the telecom industry hated 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, they’ll positively despise a new symmetrical 100 Mbps benchmark. In large part because if we implemented it, FCC data suggests that only around 43 percent of Americans have access to at least one provider (aka a monopoly) capable of doling out those speeds. In rural markets that number falls to around 23 percent. The Senators were quick to note that these tallies are probably notably worse given the FCC’s historically dodgy broadband mapping data:
“Unfortunately, the FCC data continually overestimates broadband connectivity due to outdated mapping and poor data collection methods. We now have multiple definitions across federal agencies for what constitutes an area as served with broadband, resulting in a patchwork without one consistent standard for broadband.”
While the FCC defines broadband at 25/3, the USDA, which helps dole out rural broadband subsidies, defines it a 10 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps up. As a result, we’ve thrown billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies at companies that do the bare minimum. Or, upgrades they would have deployed anyway. So yes, it makes perfect sense to set the bar a little higher than at ankle height. Especially given that the US continues to rank somewhere around “mediocre” in every major broadband metric that matters (including price).
The problem for the broadband industry is that were America to adopt 100/100 as a standard, 187 million Americans wouldn’t technically have access to broadband. That would only pour fuel on the conversation asking why not. That’s the very last thing a heavily monopolized industry wants. US phone providers have spent years refusing to upgrade or repair aging DSL lines, something this new standard would shine a bright spotlight on. Even the US cable industry, which tends to offer faster downstream speeds, is so embarrassed by its upstream offerings it tries to hide them in company advertising.
I tend to think folks are asking for a symmetrical 100 Mbps hoping to settle on symmetrical 50 Mbps, or 50/25 Mbps, as a compromise. Either way, you can probably expect a tough fight by industry. Wimpy definitions, hand in hand with the FCC’s crappy broadband availability and pricing data, helps obscure the impact of monopolization and limited competition. And changing it would threaten the subsidy gravy train. So expect ample consternation and hand wringing by major ISPs and their allies about how actually having tough standards (for once) is diabolical extremism of the very worst sort.