According to a new proposal from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel, minimum broadband speeds in America would be increased to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.
by Rosenworcel Notice of Inquiry raised the issue with his colleagues and would have to be voted on later. In 2015, the FCC set the minimum speeds required for an internet service to be considered “broadband” at 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are currently required to meet these speeds to sell a service as “broadband’.
Under Rosenworcel’s predecessor, Ajit Pai, the FCC refused to further increase the required speeds. This is despite the increased demand for internet services for working from home and the availability of services such as 4k streaming. Rosenworcel’s Notice of Inquiry also proposes a goal of at least 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future of US Internet infrastructure.
If the changes materialize, ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon could be forced to change their rates to match the mandated speeds to their plans.
Last year, AT&T Executive Vice President Joan Marsh called proposals to subsidize the deployment of fiber to homes and small businesses unnecessary, saying in a blog post:
“There would be significant additional costs to deploy fiber to virtually every home and small business in the country when at present there is no compelling evidence that these expenses are justified in relation to the quality of service of a 50/10 or 100/20 Mbps product.”
Regarding the likelihood of price increases, Marsh pointed to the “consumer cost challenge” of delivering fiber-optic broadband to rural areas at an FCC-estimated cost of $100 per month.
“Even the increased $50 Emergency Broadband Fund grant will provide a low-income household with less than half the support it would need to fund such high-speed service.
“As higher-speed networks are rolled out in rural America, the current availability challenge could easily become an affordability issue.”
A report 2021 by the Government Accountability Office found that current broadband speeds are insufficient to support small businesses, raising the possibility of broadband speed increases to provide support to businesses that do not have access to speeds benefits enjoyed by large companies based in or near major cities.
The report further cites data from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Google to point out that 8% (2-3 million) of small businesses in the United States do not have broadband access at all.
The Biden administration reached an agreement with 20 broadband providers in May to improve internet speeds or reduce the prices of existing broadband plans to improve broadband access. The move is part of the broader Internet for All initiative, a $45 billion plan to expand high-speed broadband connectivity currently in the early stages of rollout.
Last year’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) was earmarked to provide nearly $10 billion to ISPs through reverse auctions to expand internet access in rural areas. Shortly after the bidding process began, however, the FCC questioned the legitimacy of some companies.
Extending broadband to all Americans would also impact the business model of companies like SpaceX.
Through their Starlink service, the spacecraft manufacturer and satellite communications company currently provides Internet access to tens of thousands of customers in the United States, with the specific goal of giving those in areas remote wild Internet at speeds of around 50 to 250 Mbits/sec.
The consistency of wired Internet compared to the frequent outages experienced by satellite Internet services could drive rural customers away from Starlink if a viable high-speed Internet plan is offered to them by a traditional provider.
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