Sponsored By

Congress may ask for 100Mbit/s download speeds in 'underserved' areas

The draft of the broadband section of the new infrastructure bill seems to show that Congress is gently moving the goalposts on what qualifies as an adequately served broadband community.

Phil Harvey

July 29, 2021

3 Min Read
Congress may ask for 100Mbit/s download speeds in 'underserved' areas

The US government's definition of broadband is broadening, but it doesn't appear to favor any particular access technology, according to the draft section of the new infrastructure bill.

NBC News has nabbed and published a draft copy of the broadband section of the infrastructure bill that is being debated in the Senate now, and looks to have enough support to pass soon.

The draft establishes that the minimum standard for Internet service (to be classified as "underserved areas") would be 100Mbit/s downstream and 20Mbit/s up. Unserved would be defined as having no broadband access at all or lacking access to at least 25Mbit/s downstream and 3Mbit/s upstream.

The takeaway here is that the bill doesn't appear to be pushing the symmetrical broadband speeds some in the industry had wanted. Such a push would more or less disqualify satellite, cable and fixed wireless providers from being able to meet the minimum requirements for federal funding to address "underserved" markets, allowing them to expand their networks (and customer base).

The NBC News report added that the bill would "require the federal government to establish a single website where consumers could determine whether they are eligible for low-cost broadband."

The FCC's current broadband definition, 25Mbit/s down and 3Mbit/s up, was tirelessly mocked earlier this week at the FiberConnect 2021 conference in Nashville, a gathering of the Fiber Broadband Association, which (surprise!) promotes fiber access.

"We are stuck in a country where 25/3 speeds are considered connected, and that can no longer remain the case," said C-Spire CEO Hu Meena during his keynote address on Monday. "With 25/3, this industry is further behind – antiquated like 3G in the wireless industry. Remember your Blackberry?"

Windstream CEO Tony Thomas, on Tuesday, noted that there's a need to prioritize government spending to help narrow the digital divide, but in the same breath, he called for the broadband bill to require symmetrical broadband.

"So we must prioritize those communities who are unserved and underserved. And we say if you have less than 100-meg download 20-meg upload, we should prioritize dollars to those communities so that you can join the digital revolution that's in front of us," Thomas said.

"But when it comes to the [infrastructure] bill, and getting the bill right, we should target 100-meg upload and download. That is a fiber solution," said Thomas, who runs the carrier that owns the fifth largest fiber network in the US.

Thomas called fixed wireless a "fantastic technology," but said it was a bridge to where he felt the industry must go. "I love fixed wireless, I grew up in the wireless business. It's just a physics problem: Fixed wireless can't have the same capabilities as fiber. I'd say it's not personal; it's just math," Thomas said.

Related stories and links:

Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Phil Harvey

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Phil Harvey has been a Light Reading writer and editor for more than 18 years combined. He began his second tour as the site's chief editor in April 2020.

His interest in speed and scale means he often covers optical networking and the foundational technologies powering the modern Internet.

Harvey covered networking, Internet infrastructure and dot-com mania in the late 90s for Silicon Valley magazines like UPSIDE and Red Herring before joining Light Reading (for the first time) in late 2000.

After moving to the Republic of Texas, Harvey spent eight years as a contributing tech writer for D CEO magazine, producing columns about tech advances in everything from supercomputing to cellphone recycling.

Harvey is an avid photographer and camera collector – if you accept that compulsive shopping and "collecting" are the same.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like