GAO Tells US Government Its Speed Definition For Broadband Sucks

from the keeping-the-bar-at-ankle-height dept

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 industry failure and a lack of competition.

Unfortunately for them, pressure continues to grow to push the US definition of broadband even higher. Back in March, a coalition of Senators wrote the Biden administration to recommend that 100 Mbps in both directions become the new baseline. And last week, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a new report noting that the current standard of 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up is simply too pathetic to be useful. The focus was on small businesses, but the GAO politely noted that the FCC should update its definition soon:

“Is broadband fast enough for small business owners? As they shift to more advanced uses of broadband, their speed needs are likely increasing. However, the FCC has not updated its speed benchmark for 6 years. We recommended that the FCC determine whether its current definition of broadband really meets the needs of small businesses.”

Granted entrenched ISPs fight tooth and nail against upgrading the standard for several reasons. One, higher speed standards means having to work harder for the billions in subsidies we throw at them for networks that routinely wind up half-deployed anyway. Two, better broadband definition more clearly highlights the lack of broadband competition, especially at faster speeds. That, in turn, brings more public and policymaker attention to their regional monopolies, and the state and federal corruption that protects and enables it. All bad things if you’re a largely unaccountable telecom monopoly.

Former FCC boss and industry BFF Ajit Pai refused to upgrade the FCC’s broadband definition during his term, something current interim FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel said “confounds logic.” But if your over-arching policy goal is to protect AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast revenues from any threat to the status quo, it’s perfectly logical. Rosenworcel will now need to update the definition on her watch, something she can’t do (thanks to partisan gridlock) until the Biden administration gets around to finally staffing the FCC (which it appears in no rush to actually do).

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “GAO Tells US Government Its Speed Definition For Broadband Sucks”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just curious to see what everyone here thinks a reasonable definition of broadband in the US should be.

No wrong answers, and I’ll go first: 200 down/5 up seems fairly reasonable to me. Fast enough to be worth a damn for those who have it, and would effectively highlight how few communities actually have access to "broadband".

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

100 Mbps down/100Mbs up. We need a definition of broadband that doesn’t need to be raised again as soon as it’s set. That needs to include solid upstream bandwidth to properly support two way video communication as that’s here, now. So a minimum definition of 100/100 would be a solid step.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the FCC were to (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) actually define broadband as anything far and above what most ISPs already offer at the most basic level, ISPs are not going to automatically raise their upload speeds just to say they offer broadband — they’re just going to simply stop offering "broadband".

Its mostly ineffective anyway, but if there were suddenly a map of the US that says everything in red is where broadband is offered and the whole thing is gray, it will do nothing to highlight where the divide is. It’ll just make people care even less. You have to acknowledge simply reading this site, let alone commenting, let alone creating a user name makes you more digitally informed than, what, 90% of the country?

The thought exercise wasn’t "in a Utopian society what would our broadband speeds be?" It was simply what would reasonably highlight where there actually is "broadband" level speeds. At the core, broadband itself has absolutely zero meaning to the average consumer.

Also I notice you failed to include what YOU consider reasonable.

Bobvious says:

Re: Re: Thankyou James

If the pandemic / work-from-home necessity has taught us anything, it is that artificial and asymmetric limits on data transfer, through pipes capable of symmetric flow, is just a hindrance to home schooling, working etc.

If you have tried to run multi-user Zoom sessions with video (as necessary), plus transferring large files up and down, over slow/asymm connections, you will understand the frustration.

Trying to run back-back sessions, where you need to upload the just-finished Zoom recording, whilst running the next high-bandwidth session certainly required some adjustments.

Asymm seems to be a hangover from the old telephony days, where the data signalling rate was much higher than the control signal rate.

Anonymous Coward says:

That needs to include solid upstream bandwidth to properly support two way video communication as that’s here, now.

Yes, yes, yes, especially with so many people having to work from home, or only being able to communicate online with isolated friends and family.

There’s no technical reason why upload speeds shouldn’t be similar to download, and it ought to be a crime when they aren’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Basic FTTC her in the uk, giving 35/10. I have no complaints yet and that supports 2 PCs, a laptop, 3 phones, a streaming device and downloads to the satellite box.

Would probably need more if upped to 4K tv, more viedo conferencing (mostly watch rather than send atm) or if we had an avid gamer on the premises

So what I have is probably an absolute minimum, but wouldn’t provide any headroom as commented on above. Given the availability of better, that I choose not have, 100 sounds fair.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Rough numbers just to get an idea:
4k TV 25MB/s (Netflix recommendation)
HD Video 10MB/s per stream
General background ‘stuff’ 10-20Mb/s

So for a house with 2 video conferences, a 4k TV and a couple of teenagers you probably want over 60MB/s. Therefore, 100Mb/s sounds like a fair definition of ‘enough to cope with anything you throw at it’ for an average household. I get about the same as you which is fine as there are only 2 of us and neither uses video for work (a lot of online calls but no need to see the other end)

Largely the net is about downloads because traditionally upload speeds suck but if everyone had 100/100 it would be interesting to see if the dynamic changes over time.

charliebrown (profile) says:


After the National Broadband Network (NBN) was sabotaged by the current party in power (The Liberal Party, who is actually conservative), most Australians are lucky to get the "maximum" speed of 100Mb down, unknown up (was 40Mb but no more). The lucky few who got Fibre To The Premesis (FTTP) (and some who have Hybrid Fibre Coaxial – HFC) can get up to 1000Mb down, 50Mb up – but only guaranteed of around 300Mb down actual speed. FTTP was originally implemented for the NBN in 2009 by the then-in-power party, The Labor Party, the liberals. Isn’t the naming confusing!

Our house is in one of the last areas to be connected with FTTP in early 2016, some three years after the current party came to power. Why did we still get it? Because the contracts had already been signed to do fibre. We are very lucky, the FTTP installation ends about 500m south of us (about 1500 feet) down the road! Our connection is 250Mb down and 100Mb up. This plan is hideously expensive. For about Au$60 less we could get 1000Mb down and 50Mb up, but the up speed was suddenly like using 5Mb up even though the speed test showed it was all good. So at least now, we may be slower down, but we get what we pay for! At our house, we meet that good definition of broadband, but most Australians don’t and most of that most simply can’t.

Most Australians got Fibre To The Node (FTTN) whereby they have fibre down the street, but then it goes through a converter then is DSL’s down the old phone lines. Some lucky people got Fibre To The Basement (FTTB). That’s usually reliable because the phone line in most houses are somewhat reliable still. But for these people, 100Mb down is the maximum and at "peak times" (usually 6pm to 11pm) it can drop drastically. No guarantee for their up speed. Sure, we have Netflix here, but most Australians are very familiar with watching a circle of dots swirl around their screen.

I hope your government manages to pass that minimum definition because our government likes to copy yours. Unfortunately, though, our government loves to kiss Ruprt and Lochlan’s asses way more! I’d say The Liberal Party can suck my dick, but I have standards!

sumgai (profile) says:

I’ll take a moderate amount of guaranteed speed, please. This crap about "shared" bandwidth has to go.

That’s the problem for everyone – sharing bandwidth can cause more than just dropped frames for a gamer, it can disrupt serious business transactions or school classes, and do it well beyond the the point of frustration. My view is that variable bandwidth ("up to Xmps") is better described as disruptable bandwidth. I’d almost hazard a guess that 50Mbps guaranteed at all times would be sufficient for many folks.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »