‘High speed’ In­ter­net that isn’t get­ting any faster

The East African - - OUTLOOK - By BRIAN FUNG The Washington Post

IS THE gov­ern­ment do­ing a good enough job get­ting In­ter­net ac­cess to the peo­ple?

Un­til re­cently, the gov­ern­ment’s own as­sess­ment was no — things could be bet­ter for many Amer­i­cans fed up with slow ser­vice, high prices or a lack of com­pe­ti­tion. But a loom­ing change in the way of­fi­cials de­fine In­ter­net ser­vice may soon prompt the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to change its mind and say that, in fact, it looks like con­sumers are do­ing just fine, thank you very much.

The heart of the mat­ter has to do with the min­i­mum bench­mark for In­ter­net ser­vice, the sub­ject of much po­lit­i­cal de­bate in re­cent years. Un­til 2015, the def­i­ni­tion of broad­band had long been left at 4Mbps. But the rise of data-hog­ging TV and mu­sic ser­vices, as well as the econ­omy’s broader shift to an In­ter­net-first foot­ing, meant that the 4Mbps tar­get didn’t quite cut it any­more, the FCC said in 2015.

That year, the agency revised its min­i­mum def­i­ni­tion of broad­band to be any ser­vice that of­fered at least 25Mbps down­loads and 3Mbps up­loads. By this def­i­ni­tion, the FCC said, 55 mil­lion Amer­i­cans lacked high-speed In­ter­net.

Di­vided opin­ion

The move pre­dictably di­vided peo­ple along par­ti­san lines. By work­ing to pub­lish a study on broad­band de­ploy­ment us­ing the 25/3 def­i­ni­tion, the FCC was de­lib­er­ately con­clud­ing that in­dus­try had failed just so that it can “reg­u­late it back to health,” said Repub­li­can FCC com­mis­sioner Ajit Pai.

Pai is now lead­ing the FCC as its chair­man. And the agency is poised to con­duct the same study again, but this time, Pai has asked if it makes sense to use a 10 Mbps down / 1 Mbps up def­i­ni­tion and whether to in­clude mo­bile In­ter­net in the def­i­ni­tion. In Pai’s view, con­tin­u­ally mov­ing the goal­posts is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, and misses what he says are the main bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing In­ter­net providers from up­grad­ing their net­works more quickly.

But on Wed­nes­day, Demo­cratic FCC com­mis­sioner Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel said the idea of shift­ing to a 10/1 def­i­ni­tion was “crazy.”

“FCC propos­ing to lower US #broad­band stan­dard from 25 to 10 Mbps. This is crazy. Low­er­ing stan­dards doesn’t solve our broad­band prob­lems,” she tweeted.

Con­clud­ing that there’s noth­ing to see here has myr­iad im­pli­ca­tions for the av­er­age con­sumer. While rea­son­able peo­ple can dis­agree over the mer­its and draw­backs of reg­u­la­tion, this de­ci­sion could have even wider con­se­quences — shap­ing how the FCC lays out its pri­or­i­ties, craft its poli­cies and even al­lo­cates its fund­ing for in­fra­struc­ture projects or ben­e­fit pro­grammes.

Pic­ture: File

The min­i­mum bench­mark for In­ter­net ser­vice has been the sub­ject of much po­lit­i­cal de­bate in re­cent years.

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