FCC Might Freeze Fixed-Line Broadband Speed Benchmark
With respect to what defines "broadband" for fixed-line data services, the status quo is the way to go, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
There's some dissension in the ranks, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing that the agency's definition of wired broadband remain at 25 Mbit/s downstream and 3 Mbit/s upstream, essentially keeping things are they have been since the agency raised it to that level in 2015, upping it from the previous definition of a relatively measly 4 Mbit/s down/1 Mbit/s up.
That recommendation, coming by way of a Notice of Inquiry for the FCC's 14th Broadband Deployment Report, arrives about seven months after its last report on broadband deployment found that high-speed services, as defined by the Commission, were being rolled out "in a reasonable and timely fashion," despite evidence showing that more than 20 million Americans were without service.
Viewed through the FCC's lens, the 25/3 benchmark for fixed services is enough to deliver "advanced telecommunication capability," with respect to high-quality voice, data, graphics and video.
But not everyone on the Commission agrees that 25/3 should stay as the benchmark.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat on the Commission who is wary of the shortcomings of the FCC's last Broadband Deployment Report, said it's time to be bold.
The inquiry "fundamentally errs by proposing to keep our national broadband standard at 25 Megabits per second," she wrote in a dissenting opinion. "I believe this goal is insufficiently audacious. It is time to be bold and move the national broadband standard from 25 Megabits to 100 Megabits per second. When you factor in price, at this speed the United States is not even close to leading the world."
Among fixed-line providers, recent data suggests that 25 Mbit/s is a bar that should be raised. In its Q2 earnings, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) said that 75% of its customers now get speeds of 100 Mbit/s (downstream or higher). Charter Communications Inc. , meanwhile, has begun to make 200 Mbit/s down the entry level speed in some markets where it has deployed DOCSIS 3.1. (See Charter Goes on Big Gig Spree .)
The FCC, which has been concerned about the US's ability to lead in the 5G era as it strives to open more spectrum for the emerging standard, is also proposing to evaluate fixed and mobile services using the same four categories presented in the last report – fixed line services only; mobile LTE services only; fixed and mobile LTE services; and fixed or mobile LTE services. (See FCC's Rosenworcel: US 'Falling Behind' on 5G and FCC Proposes Opening More Spectrum for Mid-Band 5G.)
Regarding mobile, the 2018 report found that adoption of a single speed benchmark for mobile data was "unworkable" due to variabilities in the mobile experience combined with data limitations and methodological issues. It also concluded that mobile services currently are not full substitutes for fixed service.
As a starting point, the Commission presented LTE coverage data based on minimum advertised speeds of 5 Mbit/s down by 1 Mbit/s up, but stressed that those speeds weren't enough to establish a mobile benchmark for "advanced telecommunications capability."
In the 2018 report, the FCC presented deployment figures for two speed tiers for mobile LTE: 5 Mbit/s down/ 1 Mbit/s up, and 10 Mbit/s down/3 Mbit/s up. It's seeking comment if other speed tiers should factor into the analysis and if it should continue to evaluate mobile speeds using Form 477 data (gathered from the service providers) supplemented by data from Ookla, the group that runs Speedtest, which relies on info from millions of consumer-initiated tests.
The FCC's latest inquiry will also seek answers on whether there are more ways to expand access to spectrum for wireless and satellite broadband services, as well as comment about efforts focused on closing the so-called digital divide.
For its part, Comcast announced today that Internet Essentials, its high-speed Internet program for low-income consumers, has connected more than 6 million Americans since 2011, and has extended the program to low-income veterans in the MSO's footprint. Starry Inc. , the 5G-focused wireless broadband startup, has also kicked off a trial in its hometown of Boston focused on public housing in its hometown of Boston. (See Comcast: 6 Million Connected to 'Internet Essentials' Program and Starry Tests Free Wireless Internet for Public Housing.)
The FCC adopted the NOI on August 9. It has set a comment date of September 10, and a reply to comments deadline of September 24.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading