Broadband definitions matter – and EFF says 25/3 is too slow

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is speaking out on the need for a faster definition of broadband…

Today, that metric is 25 megabits per second download (25 Mbps) and three megabits per second (3 Mbps) upload. Based on that metric, the most recent broadband deployment report from the FCC has found that everyone, everywhere in America has broadband. Mission accomplished; we have solved all the problems of Internet access, right? Obviously, no. No one thinks we have actual universal broadband in the United States today. The needs of Internet users have long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 metric. It’s possible this metric was out-of-date from the moment it was established.

In short, the FCC’s 25/3 metric is not only a useless metric, it is an actively harmful one. It masks the rapid monopolization of high-speed access occurring in the United States and obscures the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind. And, it attempts to mask the failures of our telecom policy to promote universal broadband. But this failure can’t be masked during this pandemic, when millions of Americans are experiencing it as they try to work, learn, and entertain from home.

They provide a nice history of how we got to 25/3 and why they think it’s insufficient and they end with a recommendation moving forward…

We at EFF support more regular and rigorous means of assessing broadband, as detailed in our recent FCC filing. Rather than wait an indeterminate amount of time before the FCC is willing to acknowledge the United States has a real problem, it should be baked into the process that every two to three years we assess what level of broadband is needed to meet the growth in consumption. It should be done with publicly available data that measures user behavior. Five years and counting is an abysmally long time to wait.

We also need to begin assessing the future potential of networks to stay ahead of demand in order to weed out legacy networks that are no longer relevant. Determining the potential rate of obsolescence is critical to the federal policy goal of maintaining universal broadband access because it flags where new investments are lagging or are completely absent. And perhaps most importantly we need to start assessing the price ISPs are charging for broadband to see where consumers are being gouged due to a lack of competition. A recent study by the Open Technology Institute has found that the United States has the most expensive and slowest broadband networks amongst advanced economies. Our median upload speed today is 15 Mbps while the EU is at 40 Mbps, and Asia enjoys an eye-popping 500 Mbps due to an aggressive fiber policy.

There are no good reasons why the United States is not a world leader in broadband. Efforts are underway, such as the House of Representatives’ universal fiber plan and state efforts to create fiber infrastructure programs, that will reestablish our leadership. But so long as we hold onto useless metrics like the 25/3 federal definition of broadband as the means to determine our progress, we will never even take the first step.

I think the reminder that the US is not a world leader is important. We have policies that maintain the national status quo and as we continue to aim for goals set in 2015, the rest of the world is passing us by.

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

About Ann Treacy

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

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