FCC clings to primitive standard for advanced broadband

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bedtime for bonzo

Five years is a long time in Internet years. Broadband demand and data traffic rates continue to climb, and the number of people who absolutely need fast connections has skyrocketed in the past few months as work, education, health care and other vital services moved online in response to the covid–19 emergency. But the Federal Communications Commission, or at least its republican majority, wants to stick with a broadband speed standard – 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload – that it established more than five years ago.

In preparation for next year’s national broadband deployment report, the FCC floated draft specs that maintain the current definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” as 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up. That’s slower than the minimum needed to function in the 21st century economy and society, even before covid–19. It’s slower than the symmetrical 100 Mbps speeds adopted by house democrats in Washington D.C., and by democrats in the California senate. And it’s slower and more lopsided than the standard pushed by FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, also a democrat, for years…

The FCC has been sticking with a download standard of 25 megabits per second that it adopted more than five years ago. We need to set audacious goals if we want to do big things. With many of our nation’s providers offering gigabit service, it’s time for the FCC to adjust its baseline upward, too. We need to reset it to at least 100 megabits per second. While we’re at it we need to revisit our thinking about upload speeds. At present, our standard is 3 megabits per second. But this asymmetrical approach is dated. We need to recognize that with enormous changes in data processing and cloud storage, upload speeds should be rethought.

The California legislature is looking at exactly the same problem this week. It’s considering two bills, one that would raise the state’s minimum broadband standard to symmetrical 25 Mbps down/25 Mbps up speeds, and another, sponsored and carried by well compensated friends of telco and cable companies, that began by trying to lock in pitifully slow 6 Mbps down/1 Mbps up service levels and only grudgingly moved to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up.

I’ve advocated for SB 1130, and for other useful changes to CASF. I am involved and proud of it. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.