US internet tweaker FCC this morning redefined the meaning of "broadband" internet to mean at least 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up – from the previous 4Mbps/1Mbps definition.
Describing the old measure as "dated and inadequate," three of the watchdog's five commissioners voted in favor the change – which will enable the FCC to put pressure on cable companies to increase their speeds and expand their services across the country, just as The Register predicted. Any internet service slower than 25Mbps can't be called broadband.
The decision comes at the same time as the publication of the FCC's progress report into broadband rollout in America, which concludes that "broadband deployment in the United States – especially in rural areas – is failing to keep pace with today’s advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings."
Under the 2015 report, 55 million Americans - or 17 per cent of the population - do not have access to 25Mbps "advanced" broadband (now just "broadband"). An improvement of just three percent since 2013. That jumps to more than half in rural areas.
The report notes that "while significant progress in broadband deployment has been made" it's not happening quickly or broadly enough.
The FCC is obliged to produce an annual report on broadband deployment and is authorized to take "immediate action" if it feels that is not happening "in a reasonable and timely fashion." Which means that with the redefinition of broadband at higher speeds, cable companies can expect to have the FCC breathing down their necks to expand their services very soon.
Commissioner Rosenworcel was bullish about the decision, tweeting "Let's stop dreaming small & instead dream big. Good that @FCC raising #broadband threshold to 25 Mbps--but we should aim higher: 100 Mbps."
The National Broadband Plan published by the FCC in 2010 listed its number one long-term goal as: "At least 100 million US homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second." This decision should help with that target.
Opposing the decision were two commissioners – O'Reilly and Pai – who sided with the cable industry, which had argued that people simply didn't need 25Mbps and that arguments for increasing the speed used "hypothetical use cases" that "dramatically exaggerate the amount of bandwidth needed by the typical broadband user."
It is perhaps worth noting that in 2008, Commissioner Robert McDowell opposed increasing the speed definition of broadband from 200Kbps to 768Kbps. McDowell today represents Washington DC law firm Wiley Rein and appeared last week in Congress arguing that the FCC should not introduce net neutrality rules. ®
The FCC also announced today that it had fined AT&T $640,000 for "allegedly operating numerous wireless stations throughout the United States without authorization." The enforcement arm of the FCC looked at 250 AT&T stations and found that 26 of them had "engaged in unauthorized operations."