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Defining 'Broadband'

5:00 PM -- As part of its Recovery Act-related activities, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking out comments to help it refine the definition of "broadband," and at least two interested parties -- the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) -- think the present designation of at least 768 kbit/s downstream by 200 kbit/s upstream is just hunky dory. (See FCC: Help Us Define Broadband .)

Naturally, it follows that Free Press has a completely different opinion: It wants the FCC to raise the speed bar significantly and apply it to both fixed and mobile Internet connections.

In its comments, Verizon said a target of 50 Mbit/s downstream for fixed services and 5 Mbit/s for mobile "would be an aggressive longer term goal," but the currently defined threshold "establishes a workable baseline for use in indentifying where basic first generation broadband services are and are not available."

However, Verizon thinks separate targets for fixed and mobile broadband services should be established, because mobile "presents a unique set of challenges for network operators," but thinks that "most mobile broadband services" can meet the existing baseline. Here Verizon points out that EV-DO Rev. A typically offers downstream speeds of 600 kbit/s to 1.4 Mbit/s, and uploads in the 500 kbit/s to 800 kbit/s range. Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax will improve those speeds, but "they will still lag behind the speeds available using next-generation fixed networks," the telco says.

The NCTA, cable's top pressure group, is also fine and good with the speed definition established last year, and wants the FCC to continue to accept those as maximum advertised speeds because actual speeds can vary by the operator.

Docsis is shared, so that's obviously why the NCTA wants the advertised speed provision to persist, but it instead throws DSL under the bus, pointing out that speeds can change, depending on the distance between the DSL customer and the closest central office or remote terminal. But the NCTA does note that variability of speeds are also affected by network backbone equipment and routing and the types of PCs and routers consumers use in their homes.

Verizon, which has a sizable DSL footprint, is also in favor of the continued use of an advertised speed benchmark.

Free Press: Let symmetry rule
Unsurprisingly, Free Press has a different view on how the FCC should define broadband. It's proposing a minimum of 5 Mbit/s symmetrical, claiming such speeds are necessary to provide "high quality" video over IP. As one example, it notes that Apple TV needs an average bit rate of 4.5 Mbit/s to deliver 720p HD video using the h.264 codec.

"This bare-minimum threshold standard should apply irrespective of technology, and should serve as a baseline for both mobile and fixed services," the group noted in its comments, urging the Commission to "ignore any such self-serving pleas for watered-down standards."

It's also in favor of the Commission adopting a definition that relies on "real speeds," not advertised speeds.

The NCTA disagrees with the notion that broadband should be defined as symmetrical. No shocker there, since most cable modem service tiers are heavily asymmetrical and weighted toward the downstream, though Docsis 3.0 upstream channel bonding will eventually help MSOs in this area.

"The fact that the network is designed to deliver higher download speeds than upload speeds does not necessarily mean that upload speeds are insufficient for the applications, services and content consumers may want to use," the NCTA argued.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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