Should the FCC define broadband? Yes!

Pots and Pans posted an interesting article yesterday on Comments received by the FCC regarding the definition of broadband. They remark…

I’ve been reading through the comments in FCC Docket 14-126 that asks the question if the FCC should increase the definition of broadband. The comments are sticking mostly to the expected script. It seems that all of the large incumbents think the current definition of 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload are just fine. And just about everybody else thinks broadband should be something faster. In the Docket the FCC suggested that a low-use home today needs 4 Mbps download, a moderate-use home needs 7.9 Mbps and a high-use home needs 10 Mbps.

The big players seem to be saying that there is no need for definition or regulation because providers are already moving to fiber. That’s true in areas where there is a market case to develop a fiber network. And that covers a whole heck of a lot of the US — but for areas where a market case is difficult to make the definition and the regulation are imperative.

In Minnesota we can see that very directly in the Minnesota Broadband Fund. The official applications and requirements aren’t out yet – but what the Office of Broadband Development has been saying in that priority will go to unserved and underserved areas (probably in that order). Unserved is a community that doesn’t meet the federal definition of broadband at 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. Underserved is a community that doesn’t meet the state definition of broadband at 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 Mbps up.

These numbers weren’t pulled from a hat — they were pulled from governmental definitions of broadband. The definition sets a standard and once a standard is set it becomes a no-brainer benchmark for funding and regulations.

To not change the definition of broadband is tantamount to not defining it in an industry that sees changes happen so quickly. And that’s a slippery slope in an industry that also receives so much government support – in terms of Connect American Funding, USDA/RUS loans and now an increasing amount of state funding. I know the big providers make huge investments – investments that probably dwarf the government funding available. And again where there’s a business case they meet the needs of the people but for the areas that lack a business case these numbers are important. We don’t regulate generally for best case scenario in any sector, we regulate to prevent or minimize worst cases scenario.

Some folks ask – why should we care about those places where there is no business case? By definition those areas tend to be remote and sparsely populated – but those are also areas where we get food (ie farms), where we spend government money on services that could be provided more cheaply via broadband (ie telemedicine) and where consumers live who could be buying your products, if only they could get and stay online through the purchase process.

This entry was posted in FCC, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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