The FCC can’t make 25 Mbps a genuine national broadband standard by itself

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Raising the FCC’s definition of acceptable home broadband from the current 4 Mbps down/1 Mbps up level to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up would certainly be symbolic. The practical effect, though, depends on what the FCC and other agencies – state and local – do with it.

An article on Ars Technica says that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has a draft report under review that would raise the bar to 25/3. Wheeler made it clear during his time on stage at CES on Wednesday that he thinks it’s achievable.

“80% of americans have access to speed of 25 Mbps down and three up, but only three-quarters of those have a choice”, he said. “Hopefully we can overcome that”.

In practical terms, bringing competitive 25 Mbps broadband to the 60% of the U.S. that only has one ISP delivering at that level means convincing incumbent telcos to upgrade their plant: cable companies generally do that well or better already. Neither AT&T nor Verizon have much interest in residential wireline investments now, and if the FCC brings broadband under common carrier rules, they’ve warned they’d have even less.

The 20% of U.S. homes that don’t even notionally have access to high speed Internet access skew heavily rural, as the FCC’s 25 Mbps availability map shows. The rural broadband experiments the FCC is funding includes both high speed systems – 100 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up – and less capable networks specced at 10 down and 1 up. If the FCC rolls the new 25 Mbps standard into the Connect America Fund program, it should have a good base of experience to draw from.

Beyond that, it’ll be up to the U.S. department of agriculture and state agencies, such as the California Public Utilities Commission, to adopt the new standard. The CPUC’s eligibility threshold for broadband infrastructure subsidies is 6 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up. USDA is worse, setting the bar as low as 3 Mbps total in some cases – 1.5 Mbps down and up would be sufficient, for example.