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.

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Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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