Gov Tech asks – Does the Federal Broadband Definition Reflect Real-World Need?
The current definition, 25 Mbps download speed/3 Mbps upload speed, was set by the Federal Communications Commission, led by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in 2015. In an official statement, Wheeler noted that the previous standard, 4 Mbps/1 Mbps, had been established in 2010 and that “consumer behavior and the marketplace has changed.”
Five years after the 2015 revision, life as Americans know it has changed. Joe Freddoso, chief operating officer of broadband consulting company Mighty River, believes the uncertain state of the world points to a need to redefine broadband again.
Here are some of the views they share:
- Freddoso said the 3 Mbps upload part of the definition seems especially behind the times, now that households are more likely to have multiple instances of two-way communication occurring at the same time.
- “The county folks and state folks that I talk to view 25/3 as an absolute minimum,” he added. “That would be a minimal service they would expect for a constituent who didn’t have simultaneous demands on the Internet.”
- Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, studies what consumers are willing to pay for when it comes to broadband. He said whether someone needs service to surpass the 25/3 threshold remains an open question based on the individual. Wallsten’s research shows that consumers are generally willing to pay for a download speed of 50 Mbps. Beyond that, the willingness to pay decreases.
- Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon, said the 25/3 definition represented what “the telephone industry told the federal government it was capable of delivering with digital subscriber line.” …
Chambers described the 25/3 threshold as more of a “negative definition,” given that technology, such as a fiber-optic network, can offer far greater speeds. He said 25/3 is too low of a bar for spending tax dollars.
- Will Rinehart, senior fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, doesn’t anticipate the FCC under the Trump administration to change the definition. However, he would predict pushback from some members of the broadband industry if the FCC proposed to increase the speed requirements.
In particular, if a new definition involved symmetrical download and upload speeds, it could raise complaints about a lack of tech neutrality, as fiber systems tend to be the most adept at providing symmetrical speeds.