Redefining broadband speeds – promoting a culture of consumers not producers

Late last week the FCC redefined broadband

The FCC will now require companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband to serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds in 2011.

According to recent data, 99% of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service.

Doug Dawson wrote a smart piece on why 10 Mbps is insufficient…

The FCC came to this number based upon tables they included in the Tenth Broadband Progress Notice of Inquiry released last August. The FCC suggested the following as representative of the broadband usage today in different sizes of homes:

‘                                       Light Use        Moderate Use             Heavy Use
One User                      1 – 2 Mbps          1 – 2 Mbps                6 – 15 Mbps
Two Users                    1 – 2 Mbps          1 – 2 Mbps                6 – 15 Mbps
Three Users                 1 – 2 Mbps          1 – 15 Mbps              More than 15 Mbps
Four Users                   1 – 15 Mbps        6 – 15 Mbps              More than 15 Mbps

The first thing that is obvious is that the FCC didn’t set the new standard high enough to satisfy households with 3 or 4 people. I know in my household with 3 users that we often look something like the following in the evening:

1 User watching HD movie                    5.0 Mbps
1 User watching SD movie                     3.0 Mbps
Web browsing                                          0.5 Mbps
Cloud Storage                                           1.0 Mbps
Background (synching emails, etc.)     0.4 Mbps
Total                                                            9.9 Mbps

But we can use more than that. For instance we might be watching three HD videos at the same time while still doing the background stuff, and using over 16 Mbps, as the FCC suggests.

I certainly second his conclusion. I have three kids; 10 Mbps would be a slow day for us – especially in the winter in Minnesota. But I want to add that while 10 Mbps is insufficient, 1 Mbps is ridiculous as an upload speed. The discrepancy in up and down speeds indicates to me that we’re building a network for passive consumers – not producers of information, tools, culture or economy. I think an important elegance of broadband is the ability for anyone to produce information. That’s the game changer!


People are producing; YouTube reports that 100 hours of video are uploaded each minute. But it’s more than uploading videos. It’s being able to work from home, which means virtual private networks (at 1-3 Mbps), Cloud computing (1 Mbps) and video calls (1.5-8 Mbps depending of number of people on the call). Just going through a very short list of what you might need for a business, 1 Mbps seems to be a bare minimum *if* you are going to do one thing at a time. If you want to get into a job that focuses on technology (app development, software engineer, digital marketing, graphic illustrator…) you’re going to need a lot more.

I hear people paint a picture of leveling the playing field so that the next Google can come from anywhere. Unfortunately we’re creating a network where people can use the next Google anywhere – but creation will be difficult at 1 Mbps.



This entry was posted in Digital Divide, 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.

2 thoughts on “Redefining broadband speeds – promoting a culture of consumers not producers

  1. Ann,

    You should check out Sandvine’s Global Internet Phenomena Reports here:

    The 1H 2014 report shows us how we’re using our broadband connections. I think you’ll find it helpful for your prior post about internet traffic and broadband health.

    The data Sandvine collects reveals the demand in wireline broadband use, in North America, is centered around an increasing use of broadband for Real Time Entertainment (see Netflix, YouTube, etc.). You’ll see that 65% of aggregate broadband traffic is attributable to Real Time Entertainment.

    Just wanted to share some insight on how we’re seeing a change in broadband usage patterns.



  2. Thanks! I’m always a little amazed at how many people like to watch movies and shows. But glad when they have the broadband they need to do it – just so long as broadband isn’t the road block to doing more.

    Thx! Ann

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