‘High speed’ Internet that isn’t getting any faster
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.
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.
The minimum benchmark for Internet service has been the subject of much political debate in recent years.