FCC Updates Definition of Broadband Internet

January 30, 2015 Updated: January 30, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially updated its definition of broadband Internet, raising the minimum speeds in the category to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps against the protests of the telecom industry.

“The current benchmark of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) was established in 2010, before the iPad had even been introduced,” FCC chair Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Safe to say, consumer behavior and the marketplace has changed.” 

Under the new definition, over 55 million Americans and one-half of rural America lacks access to advanced broadband. 

The change would require cable companies to have their broadband services meet the minimum if their projects are to qualify for the FCC’s Connect American Fund, which subsidizes network development to improve Internet access for rural Americans. 

Wheeler said the Fund would eventually disburse $11 billion to those projects. In 2013, the FCC gave $255 million to broadband companies including AT&T and CenturyLink. 

The definition was changed with a 3-2 vote on party lines, and the two Republicans on the panel dissented. 

“But selecting an artificially high standard and applying it in a way that is impossible to achieve in order to reach all Americans, certainly in the near term, makes a mockery of a process that was supposed to provide an honest assessment of broadband deployment in the United States,” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a statement. 

Wheeler pointed to the increased use of high-definition streaming as a justification for the benchmark, and said that the cable companies agrees with the commission when it comes to their pitch to customers. 

“If you were to look at the ISPs’ marketing materials, most recommend speeds of 25 Mbps or higher if you plan on using multiple connected devices at the same time. Connections under 10 Mbps are marketed as ‘best for 1 device’ and uses like sharing photos or downloading music,” Wheeler said.