The Electronic Frontier Foundation makes the case for symmetrical, high speed internet…
Congress is about to make critical decisions about the future of internet access and speed in the United States. It has a potentially once-in-a-lifetime amount of funding to spend on broadband infrastructure, and at the heart of this debate is the minimum speed requirement for taxpayer-funded internet. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the granularity of this debate, but ultimately it boils down to this: cable companies want a definition that requires them to do and give less. One that will not meet our needs in the future. And if Congress goes ahead with their definition—100 Mbps of download and 20 of upload (100/20 Mbps)—instead of what we need—100 Mbps of download and 100 Mbps of upload (100/100 Mbps)—we will be left behind.
In order to explain exactly why these two definitions mean so much, and how truly different they are, we’ll evaluate each using five basic questions below. But the too long, didn’t read version is this: in essence, building a 100/20 Mbps infrastructure can be done with existing cable infrastructure, the kind already operated by companies such as Comcast and Charter, as well as with wireless. But raising the upload requirement to 100 Mbps—and requiring 100/100 Mbps symmetrical services—can only be done with the deployment of fiber infrastructure. And that number, while requiring fiber, doesn’t represent the fiber’s full capacity, which makes it better suited to a future of internet demand. With that said, let’s get into specifics.
The questions they use:
- Which Definition Will Meet Our Projected Needs in 2026 and Beyond?
- Which Definition Will Increase Upload Speeds Most Cost-Effectively?
- Which Definition Will Deliver Gigabit Speeds?
- Which Definition Will Give Americans an Affordable Option That Meets Their Needs Over Time?
- Which Definition Makes the U.S. Globally Competitive?
I won’t do the deep dive into each question – but I will look at the first…
Which Definition Will Meet Our Projected Needs in 2026 and Beyond?
Since the 1980s, consumer usage of the internet has grown by 21% on average every single year. Policymakers should bake into their assumption that 2026 internet usage will be greater than 2021 usage. Fiber has capacity decades ahead of projected growth, which is why it is future-proof. Moreover, high-speed wireless internet will likewise end up depending on fiber, because high-bandwidth wireless towers must have equally high-bandwidth wired connections to the internet backbone.
In terms of predicted needs in 2026, OpenVault finds that today’s average use is 207 Mbps/16 Mbps. If we apply 21% annual growth, that will mean 2026 usage will be over 500Mbps down and 40Mbps up. But another crucial detail is that the upload and download needs aren’t growing at the same speeds. Upload, which the average consumer used much less than download, is growing much faster. This is because we are all growing to use and depend on services that upload data much more. The pandemic underscored this, as people moved to remote socializing, remote learning, remote work, telehealth, and many other services that require high upload speeds and capacity. And even as we emerge from the pandemic, those models are not going to go away.
Essentially, the pandemic jumped our upload needs ahead of schedule, but it does not represent an aberration. If anything, it proved the viability of remote services. And our internet infrastructure must reflect that need, not the needs of the past.