FCC crushes old limits on rural broadband speeds

15 December 2014 by Steve Blum
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The minimum download speed for FCC-subsidised broadband projects and services in rural areas is now 10 Mbps. The commission raised the standard on Thursday. Required upload speeds haven’t change, though…

The FCC will now require companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband to serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds in 2011.

According to recent data, 99% of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service.

The vote was split in a bipartisan sort of way, with 2 democrats – Tom Wheeler and Jessica Rosenworcel – joined by republican Michael O’Rielly in fully approving it, and democrat Mignon Clyburn and republican Ajit Pai objecting to parts.

The rural broadband experiments currently under consideration by the FCC provide a firm basis for the decision. Nearly 200 applications came in, all purporting to offer service at least as fast as the new minimum. Of the 40 projects provisionally approved, 19 actually propose speeds of at least 100 Mbps down/25 Mbps up. There’s still quite a bit of due diligence to complete to verify all those claims, but right now 10 down/1 up is looking pretty ordinary.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s standard for subsidised projects is 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps up. (Unless perhaps you live in public housing – lower standards there are on the table this week). That benchmark was set in February 2012, when the limit was raised from 3 down/1up. It’s time to re-examine Californian minimums too, as demand and the gap between have and have nots, rural and urban, grows.