Seven years and a global health catastrophe later, all eyes are on the FCC to see if it will change that definition again. On Friday, Speaker Jessica Rosenworcel proposed raising minimum broadband speeds in the United States to 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads in a notice of inquiry shared with her fellow commissioners as part of a annual evaluation of Internet services.
Back when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler affirmed the 25/3 broadband standard, some internet access advocates already thought those speeds seemed outdated, a poor reflection of our growing need to be on line. (For context, chances are your phone has faster internet service than this.)
These concerns are even more palpable in 2022, now that the glut of content to stream has increased even more, and we’ve collected even more gimmicks that need some sort of web lifeline.
“Everything in our homes is connected,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy adviser at Consumer Reports. “A lot of consumers now realize, ‘It’s my refrigerator, it’s my home security system, it’s my kids on all their devices.’ And it’s TV, and it’s computers.I think, if anything, we can now appreciate just how much speed you need isn’t for just one device.
As our lives (at least temporarily) turned to home during the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of living with a slow internet connection — even one that technically counts as broadband — has become even more frustrating. This has been especially true for people living in unserved or underserved, usually rural areas, where strong internet connections have never been a reality.
If the FCC succeeds in increasing minimum broadband speeds, broadband expansion programs intended to connect these localities could finally provide the substantial connections needed to support remote work, education and more.
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“Internet users‘ needs have long exceeded the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that has moved much of life online,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. last week.
It’s not the first time since 2015 lawmakers have challenged what they perceive to be a dated definition. In March of last year, the senses. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) called on FCC and other federal officials to update the meaning of “broadband” and ensure its consistent use across all government agencies.
“Ask any senior who connects to their doctor via telemedicine, any farmer hoping to reap the benefits of precision farming, any student receiving live instruction, or any family where both parents are telecommuting and multiple children are learning remotely, and they will tell you many networks are failing to come close to ‘broadband,’” they wrote at the time.
The speeds proposed by Rosenworcel represent a significant leap from the previous definition, although according to network research firm Ooklathey are still below national fixed broadband median speeds in the USA. But even that could change over time: The President’s Notice of Inquiry also raised the idea of an “even higher national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.”
But floating these notions is one thing; bringing them to life is another.
For now, it’s hard to say how soon this broadband name change might happen. Some past attempts by the FCC, such as then-President Ajit Pai’s repeal of net neutrality regulations, took only months to accomplish. Others, like establishing 988 as an easy-to-remember phone number for suicide prevention and mental health services, took more than two years.
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Either way, Rosenworcel will eventually need the buy-in from other FCC commissioners when the matter comes to a vote. For now, the FCC remains deadlocked between the parties while the confirmation process for nominee Gigi Sohn remains stalled. For some observers, however, the president may be trying to move quickly on the issue.
“It looks like she wants to move out ASAP,” Consumer Reports’ Schwantes said. “And I agree that’s a good thing to do.”
FCC spokespersons were not immediately available for comment.
Even if the fight to redefine broadband lasts longer than expected, that won’t stop some communities from getting faster internet service.
At the beginning of June, the Treasury Department has approved plans to allocate more than $580 million from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to Louisiana, New Hampshire, Virginia and West Virginia, all to expand high internet access throughput to people who have never had it before. The following month, he approved an additional $357 million for Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Minnesota to do the same.
Rather than providing the most basic level of broadband, each state’s plan commits to providing even faster service: think at least 100 Mbps down and up whenever possible. It’s better than the standard Rosenworcel on offer because it treats a household’s download speeds – important for video calls, distance learning and more – on equal footing with upload speeds.
How much speed do you really need?
- Zoom says you only need a 1.5Mbps data connection for calls, but realistically you’ll want at least a 10Mbps connection for the best quality.
- Netflix recommends a data connection of 5 Mbps for watching HD content or 25 Mbps for 4K video. Hulu says a 16 Mbps drop is enough for their 4K movies and TV shows.
- Stream games to your phone on services like Google Stadia or Microsoft Game Pass? Both companies recommend having at least a 10Mbps connection, but better speeds mean better graphics and gameplay.
In other words, the FCC definition of broadband isn’t always the only one that matters. Kathryn de Wit, project director of Pew’s Broadband Access Initiative, said individual states “have been using higher standards for several years, and federal programs have also moved to similar standards over the past year.”
While the FCC is in some ways playing catch-up on this front, experts say the importance of pushing for a new global definition of broadband internet cannot be overstated.
“It’s important,” Schwantes said. “There are many programs related to the definition of broadband and many laws related to the definition of broadband.”