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).