NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) have asked the FCC to use a broadband speed definition of one gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical for the commission’s next annual broadband deployment report. As a fallback, the associations say the speed should at least be set at 100 Mbps symmetrical.
Broadband was defined as 25/3 Mbps service in the latest FCC broadband deployment report and in reports for the last five years, the associations noted in a letter to the FCC. But that speed “does not reflect today’s reality,” the letter argues.
“We need to plan ahead, building networks that are both useful now and will remain useful in more than a decade when Americans will rely upon them to an even greater extent for so many aspects of everyday life,” the associations said. “To achieve a fully connected future and avoid perpetuating digital divides, we cannot afford to resign some Americans to second-class service – we need to aim higher and do better.”
FCC Gigabit Broadband Speed Definition
The letter cites research from RVA that shows that residential demand for both upstream and downstream bandwidth has increased at a rate of 20% to 25% annually for over two decades. According to the FBA, the peak demand for a family of four is currently 85 Mbps downstream and 48 Mbps upstream and is expected to exceed 400 Mbps symmetric in roughly seven years.
Nationwide, as of 2018 FCC data, more than 85% of Americans had access to broadband delivering 250/50 Mbps and the median speed that households subscribed to had reached 100/10 Mbps.
The speeds in some rural areas are considerably lower, however, driving digital divide concerns.
The letter also notes that some stakeholders may argue that an increased benchmark will favor all-fiber networks, which would undermine the concept that broadband policy should be technologically neutral. The associations argue, though, that “policymakers should not sacrifice the technological superiority of all-fiber networks, especially when allocating precious government resources for those most in need of reliable, high-performance . . . broadband connections.”
The FCC Broadband Deployment Report
In the annual FCC broadband deployment report, the commission is required to make a determination whether broadband is being deployed in a timely manner – and that determination, as well as the broadband speed definition on which it is based, are a matter of contention each time the report is issued.
In years when the report has concluded that broadband isn’t being deployed in a timely fashion, some groups representing large telcos have complained, and in years when the report has supported the pace of broadband deployment, smaller rural telco groups have complained.
When the speed was raised to 25/3 Mbps, some argued that the level was set too high. And undoubtedly there will be those who argue that 1 Gbps – or even 100 Mbps – is too high.
But it would seem to be increasingly difficult to justify the current 25/3 Mbps speed level, considering the usage data cited in the letter, as well as other research that has been released in the last year or so.