fccThe FCC broadband speed definition could be in for a change. Several sources report that the commission could vote as soon as next month or earlier to reduce the speed required for an internet connection to be considered broadband for purposes of the FCC’s annual broadband progress report.

The commission also could opt to consider a geographic area to be “served” by broadband if mobile service supporting the appropriate speeds is available in the area – even if fixed service is not available at those speeds.

Based on the broadband availability data gathered for the progress report, the FCC each year makes a judgement call on whether broadband is being deployed in a timely fashion.

FCC Broadband Speed Definition
Until 2015, the FCC broadband speed definition for purposes of the annual progress report was set at 4 Mbps downstream/ 1 Mbps upstream. In 2015, under the previous administration, the FCC raised the broadband speed definition for the annual report to 25/3 Mbps. The progress report issued at that time stated that broadband was not being deployed in a timely fashion, although reports for some previous years had indicated timely deployment.

Major carriers protested the broadband definition change at the time, as did Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who now represent the majority of the five-member commission, along with fellow Republican Brendan Carr.

Current FCC Chairman (then Commissioner) Ajit Pai in 2015 questioned why the commission should use one definition of broadband for the annual progress report and a lower 10/1 Mbps definition for the Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband deployment program.

In August of last year, the Pai FCC administration issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on whether the broadband speed definition for the progress report should be changed and whether an area should be considered “served” if mobile service at the target speeds is available, even if fixed service is not available at those speeds. Any such changes should be driven by comments received from stakeholders in response to the NOI.

Mignon Clyburn, who was the FCC’s only Democratic commissioner at the time the NOI was adopted, argued that mobile and fixed broadband are complementary, rather than substitute technologies.

What If Changes Are Made?
If the FCC opts to change the definition of broadband in response to the NOI, it’s important to note that the changes should only impact the annual progress report and not the CAF program.

The FCC now requires carriers receiving CAF support to deploy broadband at 25/3 Mbps speeds in some areas and has established a CAF mobility fund that will help fund mobile broadband deployments in some areas that also receive support for fixed broadband.  The CAF program also supports 10/1 Mbps in other areas. Regardless of what the FCC does about the annual broadband report, none of that should not change.

It’s also worth noting that at the time the FCC increased the broadband speed definition for the annual progress report, then-chairman Tom Wheeler pointed to statements made by one major carrier on the carrier’s own website urging customers to purchase broadband service in the range of 25 Mbps or higher if they have three devices or more that are simultaneously connected to broadband. The number of consumers connecting multiple devices to their broadband connections undoubtedly has increased since 2015.

Sources reporting possible changes to the broadband speed definition for the progress report include DSL Reports, CCG Consulting, and Next Century Cities. The latter is organizing a protest against the possibility of counting mobile broadband as a substitute for fixed broadband service.

Join the Conversation

4 thoughts on “What If, As Rumored, the FCC Broadband Speed Definition is Lowered?

  1. From the perspective of determining who has and who does not have access to broadband, then lowering the figure makes sense. The point of originally tracking this was to make sure people had something other than dial-up service when dial-up service became unusable. We want people to be able to communicate with others, participate in the new economy through fast access to websites, to be able to look for jobs on line, purchase items, etc. A speed like 4MB x 1 MB is sufficient for that. It's not about whether everyone has screaming fast broadband, it's whether they have access to a reasonable broadband connection. It's not about someone being able to stream Netflix on multiple devices. That's a "nice to have", not a "must have". There are trade-offs people are well aware of if they choose to live in a rural area. There are fewer restaurants and shops, and also fewer choices for broadband and slower speeds than you would find in more populated areas. Let's work on getting access to an affordable, responsive broadband connection everywhere first, whether that be fixed line, wireless or mobile. Then later we can take on getting the speeds higher in those areas. Rick Yuzzi http://www.ZCorum.com

    1. If you set low expectations, that's exactly what you are going to get. How about setting higher ones, and putting forth policies that work to achieve them. We built the communications network that was the envy of the world. Now, we just want to settle for the bare minimum. Where's the vision?

  2. We will see if ATT has the power and clout it thinks it does, they are the ones pushing to get it lowered to 10 mbps as the pathetic attempt to satisfy the CAF fund which they have taken for 6 yrs at 428 million a yr . they're simply adding more capacity to their existing cell towers in a few areas and rolling out a fixed wireless to justify taking the money , but its only 10 mbps , thats why we have a push to lower it

  3. My guess is that people who don't see the need for 25/3 as a minimum live in a town where there is cable, a major telecom, and who knows what competing on speed, or they work for one of the before mentioned services.

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