The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) late last week said that its commissioners had voted, 3 to 2, in favor of changing the definition of broadband networks. As part of the 2015 Broadband Progress Report, the FCC said that in its eyes, broadband now refers to networks that provide data rates of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The old speeds were 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.
The Verge reports that this will significantly increase the number of people who aren’t served by a network defined as broadband. Under the old numbers, the story said, 6.3 percent of homes don’t have broadband access. That number will balloon to 13.1 percent under the revised definition. The story reports that FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is in favor of a download speed of 100 Mbps.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), according to The Hill, said that it is “troubled” by the FCC redefinition and that the new numbers had been “arbitrarily chosen.” NCTA Chairman Tom Wheeler’s response, however, pointed to a logical flaw in MSO’s public positions:
In defending the move, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mocked cable companies' differing claims to the commission and to subscribers. In documents urging against the move, companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon told the FCC that the current standard was fast enough for most consumers' needs. On their websites, however, the companies told customers to sign up for faster and faster speeds — at increasingly higher prices. "Somebody is telling us one thing and telling consumers another," he said.
The puny speed of American broadband comes into focus when compared to other nations’ speeds. Broadband TV News reports that two pilots will be conducted by BT this summer to assess the use of G.fast, a DSL variant that radically upgrades speeds capable over copper wires. The trials, which will be held in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and Gosforth, Newcastle, will seek to provide 500 Mbps service to as many as 4,000 homes. If the tests succeed, deployments could start next year and extend to 2017.
CED’s Brian Santo says that operators believe that the real purpose of redefinition is to make it more likely that the FCC will succeed in its efforts to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The industry is in most cases exceeding the speeds of the new definition. But the increase will mean that there will be less official competition because a higher percentage of providers will fall short of the technical definition of broadband. This will make it easier for the FCC to claim more control, according to this interpretation of the FCC’s motives.
The bottom line is that the FCC and the telecommunications industry are involved in a delicate minuet over how broadband will be administered and, ultimately, what ISPs’ obligations will be. The FCC’s move last week is an important step. It’s likely that the real end game involves areas that are underserved, such as rural and lower income areas, and what cable operators and telephone companies will be mandated to do to serve them. For the time being, however, the dancing will continue.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.