‘Broadband’ Must Now Be At Least 25Mbps

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The Federal Communications Commission has changed the “official” definition of broadband to 25Mbps downloads and 3Mbps uploads. But the new threshold will largely affect statistics rather than practicalities.

The FCC definition had been set at 4Mbps downloads and 1Mbps uploads since 2010. By a vote of three to two, the commissioners ruled that this was no longer a realistic definition given the demands and expectations of Internet users.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler argued that the old 4Mbps threshold wasn’t even enough for a single HD video stream. He also said that given many homes have multiple people using the Internet simultaneously and that “in 2015, taking turns to share the Internet bandwidth is as absurd as taking turns to use the electricity.”

Wheeler also hit out at broadband providers who argued the new threshold is unrealistically high and that 4Mbps is a perfectly fine speed. He pointed to marketing material from several of those same firms that said customers would need speeds of 25Mbps or higher to have a satisfactory online experience.

The figure is something of a surprise as the FCC originally proposed going up only to 10Mbps, with 25Mbps considered a more unlikely option.

The main effect of the change is upon the FCC’s annual survey of Internet speeds and the US government’s progress towards its goals of broadband being available nationwide. It’s had a significant effect on the statistics, and one that makes it very difficult to compare results in recent years.

In a report released early last year, the FCC reported that 19 million Americans did not have the opportunity to subscribe to a service providing such speeds. This week it noted the 2015 installment of the report (which will be published shortly and use the new definition) will put that figure at 55 million. It’s likely the FCC will use that figure as an argument for some of the regulatory measures it takes (or wants to take) to expand broadband.

The main practical effect of the increased threshold is likely to come in rural areas. The FCC may apply the new definition when deciding whether to approve broadband expansion projects funded from the Universal Service Fund, money taken from a levy on all fixed-line phone rentals.

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