FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

After upgrading its standard definition of broadband to 4 Mbit/s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says in its annual broadband deployment report that the prospects for getting high-speed Internet access to 14 to 24 million Americans in poor or rural areas that lack it are “bleak.”

When the FCC began issuing its annual broadband deployment reports in 2004, it set the standard for broadband Internet access at 200 Kbit/s. In the report it issued Wednesday, the commission says that it doesn’t consider a household a broadband-connected home unless it has a high-speed Internet connection with a minimum download speed of 4 Mbit/s and upstream speed of 1 Mbit/s. (See FCC: Up to 24M Lack Broadband Access.)

“This is a minimum speed generally required for using today’s video-rich broadband applications and services, while retaining sufficient capacity for basic web browsing and email,” the FCC said in the report, adding that the standard will “evolve over time.”

The FCC said that it found that up to 24 million Americans don’t have broadband Internet access under the new standard. It used the findings to call for Universal Service Fund reform and as additional basis for its pursuit of a broader National Broadband Plan.

The Commission also called for “innovative approaches to unleashing new spectrum, and removal of barriers to infrastructure investment.”

Two FCC commissioners said they opposed the findings of the report. Republican commissioner Meredith Baker took issue with the 4-Mbit/s standard, noting that the report found that half of Americans with access to such speeds opt for slower and less expensive high-speed Internet packages. Baker also complained that the report focused “almost exclusively on terrestrial broadband options,” and didn’t address satellite broadband, 3G, and 4G wireless Internet products.

Fellow Republican commissioner Robert McDowell noted in his dissent that the report focused too much on subscriber counts instead of deployment of high-speed Internet services, and the availability of broadband. “Collecting granular data, including subscribership numbers, is important. But subscribership data does not equate to the availability of broadband, which is what Congress requires the Commission to assess,” McDowell said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is still reviewing the report, spokesman Brian Dietz said.

The American Cable Association (ACA) said MSOs have been pulling their weight in rural areas and called on the FCC to alleviate capital-sapping regulations so more can be allocated toward broadband deployment.

"The broadband deficit identified by the FCC would be a lot worse if ACA members hadn’t been aggressive broadband deployment leaders over the past decade in rural America," said Matthew Polka, president and CEO of the org, which represents many tier 2 and tier 3 MSOs. "The FCC can help ACA members allocate their scarce capital more effectively on behalf of consumers’ broadband needs by minimizing costly and burdensome regulations in other areas, such as retreating from strict reliance on expensive CableCARD-enabled set-top boxes when more affordable options would serve cable subscribers better."

Both AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) said they disagreed with the findings of the report. AT&T senior vice president of regulatory affairs Bob Quinn wrote in a post on the company’s blog that the report found that 7 million homes without access to wireline broadband service all have access to satellite-based broadband. “Some of those areas today receive thousands of dollars annually per line to support the provision of voice service,” Quinn added.

Verizon senior vice president for regulatory affairs Kathleen Grillo said the FCC’s conclusion is “hard to understand.”

“It makes no sense that, after the National Broadband Plan concluded that 95 percent of Americans have access to wireline broadband, the FCC majority now suggests broadband deployment is not reasonable and timely,” Grillo said in a statement.

Free Press research director Derek Turner cheered the findings of the report. “The facts present a sobering reality of our broadband problem. We pay far too much for far too little, and the lack of meaningful competition among Internet service providers leads to delayed investment and slow technological progress,” Turner said, in a statement.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 4:29:15 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

On availability (per McDowell); From what I can tell there is availability of Ferrari's so maybe the FCC could serve the public interests by assessing that?  Urghh, or just maybe assess things like affordability, job creation (or not), etc.  You know, some real stuff instead of the b.s. rhetoric.

On investment (per Turner):  If competition stimulates investment then we need to be eliminating patents, copyrights (and trademarks) as well as all other state granted (and enforced) monopolies.  The argument there is without the state granted monopolies there would be no research but somehow with broadband it's the lack of competition that keeps investors from sinking their money into a modern comm infrastructure.  Can't have it both ways.

rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 4:29:14 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

Sounds like it may not be a technical thing but rather a poltical/economic thing, i.e. a way to get a money to rural telcos.  In that context they can "tax" the urban centers which already have over 4/1Mbs and send the money to the rural areas which don't have 4/1mbs.  From a public interest perspective speeds and feeds aren't as important as things like open access and carrier/colo neutrality.

macemoneta 12/5/2012 | 4:29:14 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

We're talking about wired/fiber connectivity, not wireless, right?  10Mbit/sec today should be the low end.  100Mbit/sec symmetrical should be the norm, and 1Gbit/sec should be the goal (since other countries already have this deployed) - for $29.99/month.  Is the FCC still partying like it's 1999?  After the hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies we've provided, shouldn't we at least have parity with other countries?

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:29:13 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

Yeah, the way i read it, the 4mbit/s is for wired transmission, not wireless, which is why i think is part of the reason the definition they put forth is raising some hackles and some important questions. JB

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:29:12 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

I guess beyond access bit rates I would really like to see some control or specification of oversubscription and latency.

The Access Bit Rate is an interesting number.  But the rest of number would help people compare choices as well.  It might provide a baseline in the long term for carriers to sell their bit pipes at different rates but supporting different services.  Right now, consumers have no way of doing these comparisons and the FCC has no way to figure out how to make services behave.

Theoretically, I can offer you a 1 Gb/s interface at your home and backhaul it over a 56K Modem.  I recognize this is an extreme and would not happen in practice.  But less extreme examples are completely reasonable and provide some understanding of the service that is being provided.  Standards for measurement could be put in place and that could be a very good thing for newer apps.



Duh! 12/5/2012 | 4:29:10 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s


There was a public notice, DA-09 2474, establishing a pleading cycle on broadband measurement, comment date December 14.   This was one of a gazillion items under the National Broadband Plan.  The FCC website being the mess that it is, it's not clear from a cursory look what became of that.  Something tells me that it's backed up in the Comcast fiasco.  I agree with you (I think we're saying the same thing) that a really good set of metrics, and a duty to disclose, would do more for consumers and to enhance competition than all the Network Neutrality hoo-hah combined.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:29:10 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

Anyone care how that 4mbit/s down is being defined? Getting a burst rate is one thing, but sustaining it for a service group in a bandwidth sharing archtiecture could be another.  I'll have to take a closer look at the report and see if they make that distinction. JB

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:29:09 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s

Ah, okay, I got it now.  Yep, hard to made that kind of a definition without qualifiying it as with QoS, best effort, etc.  JB

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:29:09 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s



That is what Duh and I were getting at.



Thanks!  I agree 100%




paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:29:08 PM
re: FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s


So, let me use your term "best effort" as it relates to the 4/1 service offering.  Let's say that means that your access port is rate limited to those speeds (4 Mb/s toward you, 1 Mb/s from you) and that this is a burst capability. 

You still don't have enough of a definition to know if the service could do VoIP effectively, even if it wasn't blocked or degraded.  Latency and Packet Jitter can screw this up.  The reason that we have those is that Internet Services are oversubscribed and we don't currently have a model that defines what it would mean to offer any service that is sensitive to those (or one of several other) parameters.

So, my commentary is that if we want to regulate the service offerings (and I think Duh! here is in agreement with this) we could define what acceptable service is and measure it. We could even make different capabilities of offerings and price them differently.  Now what that would do would be to provide a way of rolling out service at a baseline, but allow advanced applications (which might require different parameters than baseline service) to be served as well.

Now before you all define this as a new way of doing business, it is actually quite an old way of doing business.  You had POTS lines, but you also had conditioned lines.  You paid extra for line conditioning, but you could run more data across them.

The issue is that we have no standards for any of this and no way currently to effectively monitor compliance to spec.  When I worked for Racal-Milgo, we built leased line modems that measured the line conditioning and had NMS systems that printed out graphs that matched the definitions that the phone companies used.  That way lines that were improperly conditioned could be rebated for.

So, instead of having a 4/1 service...you might have a choice of 3 - 4 4/1 services:

4/1 Browsing and Mail service - true best effort

4/1 VoIP capable

4/1 Gaming

4/1 Video Streaming

Of course, these could change over time...but now you are getting to the problem of the cap (for example the video streaming service would have a much higher cap or maybe unlimited).  It would allow a baseline service maybe decrease in price.



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